Consulting firms: the government wants to regain control

Consulting firms: the government wants to regain control

Four months after a controversy over the use by the State of consulting firms, the government will retaliate by publishing the first rules on Friday which will govern the services entrusted to the private sector by the ministries from 2023.

The idea is to “give a framework broadly defined in its principles and in its amounts”, as opposed to the “vagueness” which reigned until then on the use by the State of private service providers, explained this week to the AFP the Minister of Transformation and Public Service Stanislas Guerini.

As a flagship measure of this new framework for the use of consulting firms, which will cover the period 2023-2027, the government promises to cap each mission at 2 million euros.

Services whose cost exceeds this ceiling will have to be the subject of a separate call for tenders, a procedure that the ministry hopes will be restrictive enough to convince the ministries to give up overly onerous missions.

The Minister of Transformation and Public Service Stanislas Guerini leaves the Elysée Palace after the Council of Ministers on July 20, 2022 in Paris (AFP/Archives – Ludovic MARIN)

The measure is a direct response to the criticisms of senators Eliane Assassi (CRCE group with a communist majority) and Arnaud Bazin (Les Républicains), who described the use by the State of cabinets as a “sprawling” phenomenon, launching a controversy which had poisoned Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign.

In a vitriolic report published in mid-March, the two parliamentarians had assessed the bill for consulting services at 893.9 million euros for the ministries in 2021.

But the average cost of most of the services listed in the report was rather in the tens or hundreds of thousands of euros.

– First answer –

Another flagship measure of the new government framework, the Minister wants to limit the use of the same private provider to a maximum of two consecutive contracts.

In the event that a service provider is chosen to carry out two missions in a row, their cumulative cost must not exceed the new ceiling of 2 million euros.

Amélie de Montchalin, then Minister of Transformation and the Public Service, during a press conference devoted to the use of consulting firms, on March 30, 2022 in Paris (AFP/Archives - Eric PIERMONT)
Amélie de Montchalin, then Minister of Transformation and the Public Service, during a press conference devoted to the use of consulting firms, on March 30, 2022 in Paris (AFP/Archives – Eric PIERMONT)

Over the period 2023-2027, the State intends to limit its consulting expenditure “in strategy, organization and operational efficiency” to 150 million euros between 2023 and 2027, “with a maximum ceiling of 200 million euros in if necessary” (compared to 226 million euros in expenditure excluding tax between 2018 and 2022).

A reduction in spending in line with the “philosophy” of a circular from Matignon published in January, underlines Stanislas Guerini.

In this document, the former Prime Minister Jean Castex advocated for 2022 a reduction of at least 15% in expenditure linked to “intellectual services engaged in strategy and organization”.

If the Minister of Public Service points to many “convergences” with the authors of the Senate report, his proposals do not however cover the IT consulting expenses of the State, which represent a considerable part of the invoice paid for consulting services .

How to regulate the use of these IT services “is a question that we will have to ask ourselves”, he admits, the framework presented on Friday being a “first answer”.

– No philosophical differences –

In addition to the supervision of the amounts, the new rules also provide for the publication of the title, the invoice, the service provider and the sponsor of each mission, for the sake of “transparency” from which the ministries can only derogate in a “reasoned” way. , for example on confidential subjects such as defence.

The government finally wants to strengthen the ethical obligations of consultants, force them to delete the data they could have accumulated during their mission and set up a “systematic evaluation” of the services by their sponsors.

If the evaluations are not conclusive, they could lead to financial penalties or even the exclusion of service providers from certain public contracts, the ministry specified.

According to him, Stanislas Guerini’s battle plan in no way contradicts the bill tabled last month by Eliane Assassi and Arnaud Bazin, largely inspired by their report. In particular, they suggested strengthening the publication requirements for consultancy assignments and declaring any conflicts of interest more clearly.

“There is a short-term action that we are taking here” with these new rules “and then long-term legislative work”, detailed Stanislas Guerini, who has “no philosophical divergence” with the text of the senators.

The minister undertakes to add their bill to the legislative program of the National Assembly in “the months to come”.

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