Learning from the past

In the penultimate scene of "Dr. Strangelove," a landmark film by Stanley Kubrick that in many ways is as apt today as it was in 1964, the Russian ambassador is invited into the supersecret U.S. "War Room" to help avert the activation of a doomsday machine. The ambassador begins taking surreptitious photographs of the classified "Big Board" as hydrogen bombs fall from a B-52 against the symphonic background of "We'll Meet Again." Trust me, it makes sense on the big screen.

The moral of the story, and a message pounded throughout the film with cinematic flare, is that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." I can't help thinking of Dr. Strangelove as I consider the state of federal contracting in the new year.

Without question, a lot has changed in the past 12 months. General Services Administration officials have consolidated their contract programs. Small businesses have seen their privileged procurement status questioned and, in some ways, reduced. States and localities now can purchase information technology products and services through GSA's multiple-award schedule contracts. Competitive sourcing and its challenges are rising like the phoenix. The Services Acquisition Reform Act is now reality. Homeland security is a household term. And Sarbanes-Oxley Act mandates, which require more stringent financial reporting and auditing guidelines on public companies, has struck fear into the hearts and minds of managers of publicly traded companies nationwide.

At the same time, much has stayed the same. GSA's schedule contracts still serve as the procurement vehicle of choice for most of the federal government. Contractors continue to try to make sense of the increasingly complex catalog of federal rules and regulations that govern every action. The government continues to review and audit contractors' books and records. The Justice Department continues to pursue allegations of fraud against contractors. And contractors continue to flock to the federal marketplace despite the inherent risks.

Fortunately, the fundamental building blocks of ensuring success as a federal contractor also have stayed the same. Honesty and accuracy still reward their adherents. The cost of implementing an internal

compliance-oriented infrastructure continues to be money well spent. A working knowledge of the rules and regulations is no less important today than it was in 2003. And one's ability to succeed still comes down to good people, a good product or service, and some good luck.

So as vendors struggle to adhere to the new Sarbanes-Oxley policies, meet the requirements of a new federal contract, negotiate a new teaming agreement or maybe simply secure their first multiple-award schedule contract, they can take comfort in the fact that the skills developed and the lessons learned in 2003 are as valuable today as they were a year ago. This realization should help vendors, to paraphrase the subtitle of "Dr. Strangelove," learn to stop worrying and love the government.

As we greet 2004, remember that the more things change, the more they stay the same. So sit back, relax and embrace change. And go out and rent "Dr. Strangelove." It's timeless. n

Aronie is a partner in the government contracts group of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at jaronie@sheppard mullin.com or (202) 218-0039.

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