Editorial: A full story

The mainstream media buries influential procurement issues under controversy-driven hoopla

The Washington Post ran a story July 5 with the headline “Government Short of Contracting Officers: Officials Struggle to Keep Pace With Rapidly Increasing Defense Spending.” In journalism lingo, the story was buried deep in the newspaper on page 8 of the E section.

That placement contrasts with the Post’s positioning of its coverage of Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration. The Post’s stories about Doan’s problems regularly appeared on the front page.

And the Post was not alone. The New York Times has published stories on government outsourcing and procurement. Vanity Fair’s March issue had a big piece on Science Applications International Corp., which the magazine identified as one of the “biggest, most powerful” of the “body shops” that “sells brainpower, including a lot of the ‘expertise’ behind the Iraq war.”

Washington Post reporter Robert O’Harrow Jr. started a new blog, Government Inc., this month on WashingtonPost.com. O’Harrow’s biography on the blog describes him as a reporter “who focuses on government contracting, fraud, waste and abuse.”

We are thrilled to have media outlets covering government procurement. It’s an important issue that deserves attention. But there is more to government procurement than waste, fraud and abuse.

Mainstream publications have immense influence because they can define the debate. They can focus public attention on important issues. But they may be missing the big picture.

The shortage of contracting officers is an important issue. But there is the larger question of which tasks are inherently governmental and so important that they should not be outsourced.

The government used to employ all of its janitors. Now that work is contracted out because officials determined that janitorial service was not a core government mission. That was probably a good decision. But where do you draw the line?

That question is far less controversial than a $20,000 contract that has elicited much criticism of Doan — a contract that was never awarded. But the question of which functions are inherently governmental is one with great implications, and it’s one that people should debate.

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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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