It's the consultants ...
TEL AVIV — Complaints in Israel that the government's job of making new laws and policy has been steadily deteriorating. While most point fingers at the elected leaders, it is becoming clear that much of the fault lies with the government offices and ministries becoming more and more dependent on outside private companies specialized in consulting.
A quite strange public tender offer that was made by the Health Ministry last December is a perfect example. It called for companies to “provide consulting services in the process of writing tenders and initiatives.” The ministry basically made a public tender for companies to advise it how to write public tenders.
Yet the Health Ministry is hardly alone. The ministries of education, communication and finance work regularly with these same kind of tenders. The whole government relies on a range of advisors from various domains in order to plan strategies and establish public policies.
In order to show the link between private companies and government offices, a study was launched in September by Reut Marziano in her thesis program led by Professor Yitzhak Gal-Nor, a former government official.
In her work she followed all the tender offers made by the government from 2007 to 2013 and divided them in three categories. Those looking for advisors for strategy planning, meaning to employ outside consultants to analyze the strategic policy problem and suggest a plan to resolve it; offers to hire consultants for the application stage in order to put out a practical plan to implement a particular policy; and finally offers for the technical stage where the consulting company is asked to work on a very specific subject and professionally advise on it.
The largest number of tender offers was in the strategic category, and the most active ministries were the environment ministry with 15 public strategic tender offers, the finances ministry, 10 offers, and the national security ministry with eight.
Who takes responsibility?
The findings of Marziano were incredible. According to her research some offers made by the government offices clearly asked companies to tell them what the policy problem with their ministry was. In an offer made by the national council of finance in 2011 for example, it asked companies to say what are the strong and weak aspects of the Israeli market and what are the main challenges it might face in the next 15 years.
Additionally, the Environment Ministry made a tender offer in 2011 asking companies to study the “situation of handling dangerous waste in Israel.” It is a bit shocking to discover that the officials of the ministry of the environment itself cannot answer this question themselves.
Out of the 63 tender offers studied by Marziano, 85% were asking companies to act on all three categories. They were asked to analyze, plan and then advise on the most efficient policy that should be taken.
According to Marziano the extensive reliance on private consulting firms in the fields of policymaking “raises questions related to the democratic aspects of policymaking by non-public actors.”
Since these private companies are not subject to the supervision and control mechanisms of the public sector, they are not obliged report their actions to the public. "It is therefore unclear in case of a failed policy designed by one of these companies if it will be they who will bear the responsibility in front of the parliament and the population,” she writes.
Ahead of next week's national elections, these are questions that get at the very core mission of the government in the lives of Israel's citizens — and taxpayers.