The Efficiency of Fairness

Well, here in Ottawa the technology sector seems to be rapidly changing. When I starting up my consulting company the dot com bubble was still inflating and almost all of my work was with technology companies in Ottawa or Montreal. I would get calls from people who I had worked with in the past. People who knew me; knew the work I could do; knew the energy and enthusiasm I could bring to a project.

Not so much lately.

While I still do work for private sector companies, more and more I am finding that my clients are in the public sector. And here in Ottawa that generally means the Federal Government. Not that that is bad in any way.

But it is different.

Government procurement is built on fairness. If the sponsorship scandal taught us anything, it is that the public has no appetite for nepotism. And the politicians do listen to the public, at least at election time. But one man’s nepotism is another man’s efficiency. Being hired because someone knows what good work you do is indistinguishable from being hired for who you know. Efficiency looks like favouritism. And so we go to grids and competitions and lowest price contracts.

Even if it risks the project, slows things down or favours mediocre work. No one can accuse the project of favouritism. It isn’t efficient, which is why most businesses don’t act like this, but it is fair. We may say we want our government to be efficient, but what we really want is fairness. We are after all, the shareholders of the government. We expect returns. Not monetary returns that inspire efficiency even if there is a bit of nepotism, but service returns that demand equity and equality.

So it’s a different game now. More of a hassle. We’ll see if my new Secret Security Clearance helps things out.