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Procurement pitfalls

We’ve been toting up a list of problems in state and local purchasing and contracting. Whether the entity is large or small, in the middle of the country, the south, east or west, the same issues pop up repeatedly. Here are some procurement problems we’ve been tracking lately.

Fuzzy contract language

A Cincinnati audit in May looked at a contract with the nonprofit, Closing the Health Gap, and found that the language in the contract was broad in scope and lacked precise definitions of allowable costs.

Weak oversight

The internal audit office in Cincinnati also cited a lack of training to help contract administrators exercise adequate oversight. The lack of training leaves staff unsure of how to verify adherence to contract terms.

A similar complaint about weak oversight appeared in a King County audit that focused on the contract with a non-profit that works on restoring licenses for people who can’t drive because of license suspensions.

Contract database flaws

In June, the City of Phoenix auditor reviewed the vendor validation process there and noted the problem of duplication of vendors in the procurement database.

As we wrote in a blog post about California several weeks ago, the contract database there “contained numerous errors, essentially rendering it ineffective for its intended purpose.”

Decentralization headaches

Last year, the Kansas City Auditor found difficulties in the ability to access contracts, largely because agencies sometimes fail to use the centralized database to record information and provide contract documents. In an abstract that summed up the audit, the auditor’s office wrote “City contracts are not centralized, although the city’s regulations require centralization.” On occasion, when Kansas City contracts have been involved in legal disputes, the city simply could not locate the document and had to rely on copies of the contract obtained from the other party.

Questionable performance measures

In an audit of paratransit providers, the Office of the City Council Auditor in Jacksonville found that contract staff had altered pick up times, in an apparent effort to avoid rides being counted as late. Since late pickups are supposed to lead to penalties, the auditor was unable to determine if the contractor was paid accurately because the data had been changed.

A lack of policies or consistent processes

A Dallas audit in June noted inconsistencies among buyers in the way they conducted sole source and single bid procurements and how they documented their need. This lack of formal written approved and dated policies and processes is familiar to us from audits generally, as is a lack of documentation to support agency actions.

Cybersecurity concerns

Our upcoming Thursday column in Governing looks at the ways in which government workers compromise website security. One of the issues is inappropriate access and that also commonly appears in contract audits. For example, the Jacksonville paratransit audit chided the contractor for allowing inappropriate system access rights, and “lingering terminated user accounts.”


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