Editorial: Encouraging mediocrity

These days, it seems as if the federal government is unable to attract the best and the brightest and must settle instead for the so-so and the passable. And unfortunately, we have two nominations in the works that show why this is the case.

One is the nomination of Jim Williams to be the administrator of the General Services Administration. Williams is eminently qualified for the job, yet his nomination is being held up by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who continues his quixotic fixation with Sun Microsystems’ GSA schedule contract.

In the interest of brevity, we won’t go into the specifics of the Sun Microsystems case. Suffice it to say, we disagree with Grassley’s Sun fury – and we particularly disagree with his characterization of Williams. Williams is an honorable, intelligent and deeply patriotic man, and Grassley’s suggestion that Williams would accept a contract that would be a bad deal for agencies is insulting.

Just about everybody acknowledges that there were pricing issues. Those should be addressed. We, frankly, are more concerned with the damage that Grassley is doing to the schedule contract program and competition for government work. Unlike the Iowa Republican, we have faith that competition and markets are the best way to elicit the best value for the taxpayer.

The other egregious situation deals with Navy Rear Adm. Elizabeth Hight, the former nominee to be director of the Defense Information Systems Agency. Hight’s nomination to replace Air Force Lt. Gen. Charles Croom was blocked by the Senate Armed Services Committee because her husband is a vice president of business development and sales at Northrop Grumman’s mission systems sector. Committee members were concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Essentially, the committee allowed a perception problem to eclipse a long and distinguished career. It also ignored the fact that there are others who have relationships that might lead to perception roblems.

Hight was presumed guilty, before she could even have a hearing.

The fact is that knowledgeable people who aspire to public service are going to have potentially questionable ties. The question lawmakers should ask is how these people dealt with those relationships.

One way to find someone with no potential conflict of interest is to try the Michael Brown approach: Hire someone with no relevant experience.

The fact is that there are no perfect candidates. In these cases, there are two nearly perfect candidates who are being sandbagged.

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