Pandemic Procurement

Peacetime military procurement has been likened to a vertical chute with bars across the chute at frequent intervals. It appears to be, and likely is, designed to prevent money from being spent. Certainly its effect is to delay spending, with close (and highly risk averse) oversight taking precedence over everything else: cost, schedule, and performance.

War-time military procurement is an different beast altogether: All the bars are pulled out and the money falls straight through from the source (government) to the recipient (industry) in less time than it takes to describe it.

Not surprisingly, pandemic procurement appears to be more like war than peacetime.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) and ventilators: These were the first face of pandemic procurement as the Canadian Federal Government tried to obtain supplies during a worldwide shortage, and to foster domestic manufacturing of supplies and equipment.

Then the emphasis shifted to vaccines, with the Government establishing supply agreements with several vaccine manufacturers, contingent on successful completion of Phase 3 trials.

Now the focus is on a humongous logistics contract: Putting in place the cross-country refrigerated transportation and warehousing that will be needed, along with mechanisms to get vaccines off the shelf and into the arms of Canadians in some still-to-be-determined order of priority.

The scale of the project is immense with more than 300 million potential vaccine doses set to be sent to the provinces and territories beginning as soon as January and running well into 2022.

Proposal documents show the government is looking to have a contract with one entity to handle the full process, leaving the potential for companies to team up into consortiums.

A briefing for the project was attended by airlines like WestJet and Air Canada, shipping firms like FedEx and Purolator, and pharmacies like Shoppers Drug Mart.

According to this National Post article, tenders closed on Monday November 9 and the Government intends to award a contract by the end of November. I’m guessing that price won’t be the most important factor.

The government wants whoever wins the bid to be ready to go by Dec. 15 and to have systems in place to track deliveries.

Zoom zoom.

The article gives no sense of the flurry of activity as industry players jockeyed to form full-service consortiums before knowing exactly which services would be required. The potential players have probably been working on this all summer, knowing that something would eventually be required.

As someone who’s watched several consortiums come together over a few decades, I’d love to know the back-room stories about this bidding process. Whoever wins, I hope that they work their way quickly through the “forming, storming, norming, performing” continuum of group behaviour. We’re going to need them to perform better than average, that’s for sure.

 

2 Comments

  1. Jim Taylor

    This is a question, rather than a response: In your experience, is it preferable to assign the whole ball of wax to a single entity (like hiring the WE charity to distribute largesse to young people all across the country), or to divide the functions up among multiple entities (formulation of vaccine here, distribution there, evaluation somewhere else)?

    Jim T

    1. Isabel Gibson

      Jim – I think it depends what your contracting priority is. In general, the “one Ring to rule them All” contracting approach can have advantages in coordination, efficiency, and accountability. But not necessarily if the different functions aren’t usually done by one organization. In the case of vaccines, there’s nothing I know to suggest that development and distribution (for example) should be done by the same organization. But I’d guess that all aspects of distribution should be under one contract. One throat to choke, as they say.

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