Mark Goldberg

The absurdities of government contracting

The game of chicken being played with the communications network for our Department of National Defense (DND) is a demonstration of what is wrong with government contracting.

Read the file on the CRTC website and you would scratch your head with wonder [start from the bottom and work your way up].

Basically, here is what happened: Bell had been providing DND with its national communications services. Two years ago, TELUS won the replacement network RFP, which required that the transition be completed in 12 months. It missed.

For the past year and a half, DND has used up the 18 months of month-to-month of transitional renewals that were allowed under the customer specific arrangement (CSA) that governed their old network. That CSA expired on Monday, and the but is continuing until the CRTC renders its decision. There was no provision to extend the old arrangement beyond these 18 monthly renewals.

TELUS is still not able to finish the transition of most of the network for about 6 more months and parts may not be ready for up to two years.

Bell has said that they no longer offer that arrangement; the service has been replaced by a new tariffed service, but that requires a 5 year commitment – just sign here please. Sorry, we don’t offer that any other way.

If this was a normal private sector customer, the old carrier would be helpful, sometimes to the point of bending over backwards to assist the new carrier.

Why? Because in the private sector, customers have long memories. RFPs don’t have to be fair; there can be all sorts of subjective points awarded for intangible, qualitative factors like service history. Not so for the government. Public Works, the contracting arm of our government, won’t be able to consider any of these antics when it comes time to award its next piece of business.

With government, contracts are awarded based on quantitative, unemotional points scoring. It is a clean slate for each procurement. Do you think the taxpayer is better off this way? Still, since there is no downside for Bell in future contract opportunities, they are behaving exactly the way their shareholders should be proud of.

Hopefully the government lawyers are learning how to deal with end-of-contract transition clauses a little better.

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