The benefi ts of bureaucratic discretion depend on extent to which it is used for public benefi t versus exploited for private gain. We study the relationship between discretion and corruption in Italian government procurement auctions, using a confi dential database of fi rms and procurement officials investigated for corruption by Italian enforcement authorities. Discretionary procedure auctions (those awarded on the basis of negotiated rather than open bidding) are associated with corruption when conducted with fewer than the formally required number of bidders; we similarly fi nd that discretionary criteria ("scoringrule" rather than first price) auctions are won more often by fi rms investigated for corrup-tion. We show that these "corruptible" discretionary auctions are chosen more often by officials who are themselves investigated for corruption, but less often in procurement administrations in which at least one procurement official is investigated for corruption. These fi ndings fit with a model in which more discretion leads to greater efficiency as well as more opportunities for theft, and a central monitor manages this tradeoff by limiting discretionin high-corruption locales. Consistent with such a model, we present two additional sets of analyses which suggest that monitors use two standard tools – turnover and subcontracting limits – to further constrain auction officials in high corruption areas. We conclude with a back-of-the-envelope calculation which suggests that discretion is under-utilized, given the high potential bene fits, and the modest increment in corruption resulting from greater discretion, given in particular its limited use in locales where it is more apt to be exploited.


Francesco Decarolis

Bocconi University, Milan, Italy


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12.12.2019 | 13:30 - 14:30 (CET)

Event Location

ZEW – Leibniz-Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung

L 7, 1 68161 Mannheim


Heinz König Hall


Head of Junior Research Group