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.




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.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Shutterstock image: looking for code.

    How DOD embraced bug bounties -- and how your agency can, too

    Hack the Pentagon proved to Defense Department officials that outside hackers can be assets, not adversaries.

  • Shutterstock image: cyber defense.

    Why PPD-41 is evolutionary, not revolutionary

    Government cybersecurity officials say the presidential policy directive codifies cyber incident response protocols but doesn't radically change what's been in practice in recent years.

  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group