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“Sutton’s Law” — named after bank robber Willie Sutton (he of the “money” quote) — is an actual term of art in the medical profession. It’s used to teach aspiring doctors to look for the obvious when diagnosing, before they start venturing further afield into more costly treatments.

In other words, set your immediate sights on the surest payoff.

According to the wise crowd at Wikipedia, Sutton’s Law also applies to other disciplines, such as debugging computer programs and management accounting. So I suppose we should now add assisted acquisition services to Willie’s paradigm — in particular, those two centers in the federal government that offer a full line of contract management assistance to overworked and overextended procurement offices.

Our acquisitions expert, News Editor Matthew Weigelt, reports in this week’s cover story that both the Office of Assisted Acquisition Services, located at the General Services Administration, and the Acquisition Services Directorate, housed in the National Business Center at the Interior Department, are hitting the pavement these days in an effort to show their wares and gin up new business. Mary Davie of AAS and John Nyce of AQD are visiting current clients and developing marketing campaigns to reach new ones, Matthew writes. They both consider every agency to be a potential customer (Page 24).

What’s driving this new activity and competition for business? Well, Doc, look no further than the $787 billion pile of stimulus money standing right in front of you, from which federal agencies up and down the line are expected to both allocate and obligate with lightning speed. The working assumption is that agency procurement officials don’t have the manpower, expertise or bandwidth to work through all those contracts in so short a time frame. The only alternative to doing it themselves is to outsource the service to either AAS or AQD.

But the unstated part of Sutton’s Law is at work here, too. That’s the part that says be careful where you tread because someone is probably watching you. In this case, the Obama administration has promised to impose extraordinary oversight and transparency to the stimulus spending process. Any slip-ups are bound to be exposed and magnified in this new operating theater — at no small risk to AAS and AQD, which have been battling back from negative reviews they each received just a couple of years ago.

So the stakes remain high for everyone involved — not least among them is the beleaguered U.S. economy, the ultimate target of this monumental fiscal prescription. Sutton’s Law doesn’t help us there. Though he spent a lot of time in jail, Willie never considered the idea that he might be caught in the act.

About the Author

David Rapp is editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and VP of content for 1105 Government Information Group.

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