The City of Toronto PayIt Procurement: Freedom of Information Requests, Fairness, and Transparency
A post in a series to understand and assess the procurement process followed for PayIt. This post is a straight copy/paste of a thread of tweets — this is an archival post to cover tweets from Feb 20-Feb23 2022
Tweets from Feb 20, 2022
updates on PayIt FOI processes. one of them is underway, we’ll call it FOI #2. this one will provide documentation to explain how the City adhered to the policy below in evaluating PayIt’s initial unsolicited proposal. link to policy https://www.toronto.ca/business-economy/doing-business-with-the-city/unsolicited-quotations-for-proposals-policy/
as the policy notes, in its first line: “Unsolicited quotations or proposals should not be allowed to circumvent the City’s procurement process.”
as for FOI #1, the City said it would take three years to process. that’s me not knowing what I’m doing with FOIs so I’m going to pull out a small piece, and then put the rest of it in separate requests.
the small piece I’m going to pull out for FOI #1 relates to processes followed when a company has no contract with the City but is working on tech prototyping with staff. through this process they attain preferential access to knowledge about our IT systems.
trying to describe this issue to the lobbyist’s registrar was revealing. this is also an in the weeds element of understanding how negotiated requests for proposal processes deal with this situation, particularly with IT, where “innovation offices” encourage this kind of porosity
i *think* FOI #3 should be something about where this idea of going into business with PayIt came from (City or vendor)? but this also feels hard to track. I’m going to do the thing we should all do with good FOI which is ask staff first.
haven’t transcribed the exchange with the mayor yet because I don’t need to in order to remember the main thing. I felt bad/scared for asserting that something was wrong here when something — more than one thing — is clearly wrong here. that was weird, but turns out…
there is a major norm at play here where politicians protect staff. which, if we need accountability for decisions already made, gets problematic pretty fast. when I say something — multiple things — are wrong here, I’m describing process. the way that was understood was people.
anyway, this is a giant documentation project because if we’re going to talk about tech accountability so much it’s really important to share documentation about how that all lands and has an interface with current political practice.
political lesson I don’t know what number for tech accountability: we’re not set up well for public service accountability. ethics processes in canada are torqued heavily to political decision-makers who are distant from what is going on in IT. this will take a while to deal with
Tweets from Feb 21, 2022
the City has more information about PayIt on their website now. in both references to the “partnership” we’ve entered into with PayIt, it says nothing about the City being incentivized in its contract to help PayIt sell to other Canadian cities: link: https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/mytoronto-pay/
when you read about the scope/long-term intent of this procurement/commercial relationship you may also have a hard time believing how it came to be: an unsolicited proposal from PayIt for services deemed such a good match by staff that it was ok to skip std procurement process.
FOI #2 as I’m calling it is to get a) the documents that staff put together to justify this decision as per City policy for unsolicited proposals and b) the evaluation team’s assessment of the proposal as per the policy.
one reason this is important to chase is that though legally and technically there is a lot of talk about this not being a decision we are locked into, culturally and practically that’s not true. it’s two winks too cute in how it’s true but also not true. don’t like those.
also, the legality/implications of the City being in business (that’s what the word “partnership” obfuscates here) with a vendor it’s also supposed to holding accountable for service delivery needs its own specific tending to, in terms of literal accounting for dollar value.
have turned FOI #1 into a records request for information about access to our IT systems through/for the pilot program. this is an important bit to document because this is about corporate influence on systems/access to them outside of any contract + outside of lobbying oversight
there are significant impacts related to information asymmetry and fairness and competition that come into play from this part of the story. they relate to the city manager’s decision to use the swiss challenge procurement model after council rejected the sole sourcing idea.
i will periodically clear these tweets and transfer them to medium posts for records. i’m doing these as threads to both a) do this in quasi-public and b) to turn it into bite-sized steps for documentation because this thing is overwhelming.
Tweets from Feb 22, 2022
it has taken me a long long long long time to figure out what feels off about one particular part of this procurement. like way past when we did deputations on this item. i’m still not done, but i figured out one specific part that others may have going on in their cities too.
i’ve been looking for the name of the thing where everybody is following the rules, so to speak, but something is still off. in this case, one source of the offness is the pilot project that the City did with the vendor.
when council directed staff not to sole source this deal, staff came back with a process that invited other vendors to compete with the unsolicited proposal submitted by PayIt by using a process called a swiss challenge.
you can read a bit about this procurement approach here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_challenge_(procurement)
so, the thing here is: the completion of a pilot project done by a vendor *with the City, on City time, with City resources, using/providing access to City IT* outside of any contract is a VERY different thing than the City simply being the recipient of an unsolicited proposal
that the pilot was done was always known and referenced by staff. the thing that took a long time to surface for me is how that pilot did/did not play into the city manager’s decision to use a swiss challenge. how did that context inform the application of the procurement policy?
looking back, I didn’t interrogate the new problems that ‘procurement innovation’ could unleash hard enough. now they’re becoming more clear. you cannot skip over investment in/reorg of the public service with workarounds. procurement is a labour issue. https://torontoist.com/2016/09/government-it-project-mistakes-civic-tech-toronto-guelph/
last point for today is this: lots of cities have innovation offices/challenges/etc. to try different ways to procure IT. those processes can create new vulnerabilities in addition to new flexibility. highly capitalized IT vendors are particularly well-situated to game this space
few other bits before clearing this thread over to a post. interlude for reference — this is a summary from the point in time (July 2020) when city staff were recommending to sole source PayIt, which council rejected:
Why is City of Toronto sole-sourcing key digital infrastructure? - Spacing Toronto
Toronto City Council is set to vote this week on a staff recommendation to sole-source a contract for a technology…
from that point, the city manager was instructed by council to figure out what to do next. a report was created the following january (2021) that recommended a swiss challenge negotiated request for proposal procurement process. in that report is the following statement:
“the Purchasing and Materials Management Division (PMMD) and the Office of Partnership recommended a Swiss Challenge procurement process — the appropriate approach to ensure a fair and transparent consideration of the unsolicited proposal from PayIt.” (pg 2) https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2021/cc/bgrd/backgroundfile-162935.pdf
fair and transparent
a bit further along is this: “The City Manager, Deputy City Manager of Corporate Services, and the Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer agreed with this approach” (pg 2) https://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/mmis/2021/cc/bgrd/backgroundfile-162935.pdf
the FOIs are part of an effort to understand how this decision was made/what information was used to make it. how the pilot was or was not considered in the assessment of fair and transparent. how the terms fair + transparent were defined/considered for the purpose of this report
fairness is a cornerstone of public procurement. transparency is one method to help support fair procurement practices.
revised narrow scope of FOI #1 — info about the pilot — has been accepted by the City. Today I learned that one person can have a maximum of five concurrent (active) FOI requests at a time.