Editorial: Apples and oranges

The idea that government should be run like a business is tempting but ultimately misguided

Why can’t the government run more like a business? It’s a frequent question that is the basis for many policy initiatives, some more successful than others. As a general premise, however, the idea is tempting but misguided.

First, the comparison is unfair. Typically, when people compare the private sector to the public sector, they are comparing the best of the private sector to the worst in government. Many of us have had experiences with bloated, bureaucratic corporations or organizations in which one part of the business does not work well with another. So the government-as-business construct just seems tired.

But there are more valid reasons why government does not operate like a business.

One is the way government is organized. Even if one puts aside the broader constitutional issues, the federal government is not designed with an eye toward efficiency. Even members of Congress will concede that the incompatible committee structure is antiquated. And the budget process discourages collaboration among agencies.

In addition, the public has decided that there are certain areas in which government has a higher calling. Policy-makers have created set-aside requirements for small, disadvantaged, veteran- and woman-owned businesses to steer federal dollars their way, for example. Most businesses do not have such requirements.

Generally, the government has made significant strides in the past decade toward the creation of a more businesslike procurement system that considers the unique aspects of public-sector work and seeks to streamline the process and encourage more competition.

Rather than forcing the government to run like a business, it makes more sense to outline priorities that will help the government operate more efficiently and effectively.

We believe it is important to lower the barriers to competition for government contracts, thereby increasing the competition, allowing for more creative solutions and ensuring that agencies get the best deal.

But with a presidential election looming, we expect to hear the “run government like a business” refrain again.

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About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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