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Moral Hazard, Incentive Contracts and Risk: Evidence from Procurement


  • Gregory Lewis
  • Patrick Bajari


Deadlines and penalties are widely used to incentivize effort. We model how these incentive contracts affect the work rate and time taken in a procurement setting, characterizing the efficient contract design. Using new micro-level data on Minnesota highway construction contracts that includes day-by-day information on work plans, hours actually worked and delays, we find evidence of moral hazard. As an application, we build an econometric model that endogenizes the work rate, and simulate how different incentive structures affect outcomes and the variance of contractor payments. Accounting for the traffic delays caused by construction, switching to a more efficient design would substantially increase welfare without substantially increasing the risk borne by contractors.

Suggested Citation

  • Gregory Lewis & Patrick Bajari, 2011. "Moral Hazard, Incentive Contracts and Risk: Evidence from Procurement," NBER Working Papers 17647, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17647
    Note: IO LE PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Oriana Bandiera & Iwan Barankay & Imran Rasul, 2005. "Social Preferences and the Response to Incentives: Evidence from Personnel Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 917-962.
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    3. Martin L. Weitzman, 1974. "Prices vs. Quantities," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 41(4), pages 477-491.
    4. Gregory Lewis & Patrick Bajari, 2011. "Procurement Contracting With Time Incentives: Theory and Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 126(3), pages 1173-1211.
    5. Mireia Jofre-Bonet & Martin Pesendorfer, 2003. "Estimation of a Dynamic Auction Game," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 71(5), pages 1443-1489, September.
    6. Patrick Bajari & Lixin Ye, 2003. "Deciding Between Competition and Collusion," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 85(4), pages 971-989, November.
    7. Gil, Ricard & Marion, Justin, 2009. "The Role of Repeated Interactions, Self-Enforcing Agreements and Relational [Sub]Contracting: Evidence from California Highway Procurement Auctions," University of California Transportation Center, Working Papers qt6ds5d1pp, University of California Transportation Center.
    8. Tong Li & Xiaoyong Zheng, 2009. "Entry and Competition Effects in First-Price Auctions: Theory and Evidence from Procurement Auctions," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(4), pages 1397-1429.
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    11. Martimort, David & Pouyet, Jérôme, 2006. "'Build It or Not': Normative and Positive Theories of Public-Private Partnerships," CEPR Discussion Papers 5610, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    12. De Silva, Dakshina G. & Dunne, Timothy & Kankanamge, Anuruddha & Kosmopoulou, Georgia, 2008. "The impact of public information on bidding in highway procurement auctions," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 52(1), pages 150-181, January.
    13. Marion, Justin, 2007. "Are bid preferences benign? The effect of small business subsidies in highway procurement auctions," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(7-8), pages 1591-1624, August.
    14. Steven Tadelis, 2009. "Auctions Versus Negotiations in Procurement: An Empirical Analysis," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 25(2), pages 372-399, October.
    15. R. Preston McAfee & John McMillan, 1986. "Bidding for Contracts: A Principal-Agent Analysis," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 17(3), pages 326-338, Autumn.
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    18. Jonathan Levin & Steven Tadelis, 2007. "Contracting for Government Services: Theory and Evidence from U.S. Cities," NBER Working Papers 13350, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Decio Coviello & Andrea Guglielmo & Giancarlo Spagnolo, 2015. "The Effect of Discretion on Procurement Performance," CEIS Research Paper 361, Tor Vergata University, CEIS, revised 17 Nov 2015.
    2. Justin Marion, 2015. "Sourcing from the Enemy: Horizontal Subcontracting in Highway Procurement," Journal of Industrial Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 63(1), pages 100-128, March.
    3. Decio Coviello & Luigi Moretti & Giancarlo Spagnolo & Paola Valbonesi, 2013. "Court Efficiency and Procurement Performance," "Marco Fanno" Working Papers 0164, Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche "Marco Fanno".
    4. Odolinski , Kristofer, 2016. "Contract design and performance of railway maintenance: effects of incentive intensity and performance incentive schemes," Working papers in Transport Economics 2016:20, CTS - Centre for Transport Studies Stockholm (KTH and VTI).
    5. Carroll, Gabriel & Meng, Delong, 2016. "Robust contracting with additive noise," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 166(C), pages 586-604.
    6. Cesare Dosi & Michele Moretto, 2017. "Cost Uncertainty and Time Overruns in Public Procurement: a Scoring Auction for a Contract with Delay Penalties," Working Papers 2017.02, Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D86 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Economics of Contract Law
    • H57 - Public Economics - - National Government Expenditures and Related Policies - - - Procurement
    • L92 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Railroads and Other Surface Transportation

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