Catherine Poole: Rules of road guide emergency buys

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Poole helped provide timely information about emergency acquisition procedures

When the fury of Hurricane Katrina abated, Catherine Poole immediately saw a need for procurement information.

As a principal at Acquisition Solutions, Poole spends her days digging through procurement laws and rules to pass information along to the consulting firm’s government clients. When it became clear that agencies, contractors, journalists and others needed clear and timely information about emergency acquisition procedures, she and her staff created a Web site to provide it.

“When we realized the impact it would have on the federal acquisition community, we decided to help out in the best way we knew how,” Poole said.

She marshaled a similar effort after the 2001 terrorist attacks, and that experience proved helpful. Although contracting procedures are not the same after natural disasters as they are after manmade emergencies, the urgency was the same.

“My staff and I worked all weekend through Labor Day Monday pulling the information together,” Poole said. They created the site Sept. 5, 2005, then revised it Sept. 17 and again Sept. 23. “We were able to contribute exactly the information the community needed, when they needed it, in a format they could understand,” she said.

Anne Reed, president of the firm, said the Web site was useful to more than people involved in acquisition. “We also found it was used by a lot of reporters across the country who didn’t understand how government contracting worked,” Reed said. “In that sense it contributed to having a fuller and more accurate understanding.”

Poole put in long hours to make the site useful, Reed said. “What was sheer grit and determination was the speed with which she was able to do it,” Reed said. “It was astonishing. She worked around the clock that holiday weekend and made use of the resources we put in front of her.”

Steve Kelman, a Federal Computer Week columnist and a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, said Poole’s work shows how value can be created by determined people, particularly those who don’t watch the clock or worry about the wording of their job descriptions.

Poole “didn’t have to do anything about Katrina at all,” Kelman said. “She didn’t have to do it so fast, and she didn’t have to do it so well.” Poole and her firm acted on behalf of the community, he added. Apart from possibly drawing some attention to Acquisition Solutions, the Web site did not benefit the firm in any direct way.

Poole accepts such compliments by praising her staff for helping and the government acquisition community for seeking the information the firm provided.

“This community has heart,” she said. “They want to do the right thing. We were surprised at the reception to the information we offered. We were glad to be able to help.”

Photos copyright 2006 Matthew Borkoski.

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