Editorial: Running scared

Many signs indicate that everything is not right with procurement

This is definitely not the best of times for government procurement. The past decade has brought some of the most invigorating changes in government procurement. During that period, procurement executives were empowered and encouraged to innovate. Procurement officials were willing to try new ways of doing business if they thought it might get the government a better deal. Yes, the government made large cuts in the procurement workforce, but it also created a sense of purpose and the freedom to try something new — innovation.

Procurement officials had freedom to try and fail. Leaders understood that honest mistakes could — and probably would — sometimes occur if the government was trying new approaches to business.

Increasingly, however, procurement officials are finding it to be one of the worst of times. Officials are in a precarious position. The rules that defined what was safe have been lifted, but procurement executives are terrified to use those freedoms.

Many signs indicate that everything is not right. David Drabkin, senior procurement adviser at the General Services Administration’s Office of the Administrator, said a much smaller number of people must do an increasing amount of work. Kevin Carroll, chief of the Army’s Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems, said he has seen a spike in the number of protests.

Nobody questions the need for oversight, and nobody should question the role that auditors can play. But procurement officials are running scared because they fear that any decision they make will be reviewed and reviewed and reviewed. If federal employees make a mistake, they fear that they will get called before Congress — or worse.

The ramifications of this situation extend beyond procurement. The harsh environment harms the government’s ability to attract young people into public service.

If there is wrongdoing, it should be uncovered. Unfortunately, in our rush to catch a minuscule number of feds or contractors who engage in illegal acts, the many good ones just trying to do good work are getting caught in the crossfire.

It’s definitely not the best of times.


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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