Saturday, October 29, 2005

The State of Wisconsin vs. Subsidiarity

One of the "old-fashioned" maxims espoused by the Catholic Church was the Principle of Subsidiarity. Under this principle, a dispute or concern was resolved at the lowest-possible level. Two neighbors would sit down with a third party and resolve a "barking dog" complaint, rather than take it to the Supreme Court, for example. The principle is based on the supposition that the closer one is to the problem, the better the solution will be.

A corollary is that decisions on purchasing (e.g.) should be made 'where the rubber meets the road,' rather than in Washington DC, or in Madistan.

Thus, the very good reporting of Jessica McBride on BagManJimbo's "ACE" initiative, which forces State buyers to shop at only one or two outlets, violates the Principle, and (as one might suspect) also winds up costing more money.

The question, of course, is WHY BagManJimbo initiated the program. As McBride reports, Bill Bablitch already eviscerated the policy (at least in the case of travel) by advising State employees that they could take "best price" offers even if they were NOT from Adelman Travel. This action gives credence to those who tell us that "the system was not broken--so why the Hell did someone 'fix' it?" A very good question, indeed, especially since $20K flowed into BagMan's election fund in the Adelman case.

In the MRO-supplies case which McBride details, the game is simple. WWGrainger, who won the MRO contract with the State, simply used the State's aggregate expenditure numbers and bid an overall reduction in purchase-cost. In order to do that, they undoubtedly cut prices on SOME items---but in order to maintain profitability, raised the prices on OTHER items. By demonstrating an overall price-reduction, WWGrainger won the 'exclusive' contract.

Unless you happen to be shopping for one of the items on which WWGrainger RAISED its price for the sake of profitability.

And the prices are only the beginning. In the case of WWGrainger and UW-Platteville, there's another problem: the UW people simply will have to wait a day (or two, or five) for WW Grainger to deliver their order; there's no Grainger outlet in Platteville.

Ever hear of manpower-planning, BagMan?

Or in the case where (God forbid) a particular bolt is absolutely, positively the ONLY solution to a leaking pump in the heating system--should we wait a couple of days for delivery?

Yes, there's always some 'slop' in local purchasing. But single-source mandates are rarely the solution. It's a lot more sensible to have a sharp auditor or Controller at the local level who notices exceptions and who utilizes 'benchmarks,' calling a few similarly-placed pals at other State facilities to get comparable-purchase price numbers.

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