No end in sight in quest for reform

Most agree 1990s reforms result in faster and cheaper procurements, but some question if everything is better

Ellen Brown got her first government job as a new lawyer at the Small Business Administration, which hired her to advise small-business owners about selling goods and services to the government. When her telephone rang, she told SBA clients about agency solicitations in the Commerce Business Daily and other ways that federal organizations bought what they needed.

In her first few days, she recalls, she told some callers not to bother selling to the government. It was too complicated, and the rewards were uncertain. "I didn't understand why anyone would want to do business with the government," she says.

Her boss overheard one such conversation and told Brown to change her tune. But she continued to wonder why vendors put up with agencies' arcane purchasing techniques, slow turnaround time and rule-ridden cultures. The situation was even worse for sellers of computers and communications networks, because their high costs and unfamiliar technology led to tighter reins on acquisitions.

But later as a Capitol Hill staffer, Brown had the opportunity to improve the process. She worked for Rep. William Clinger (R-Pa.) and helped craft the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994 and then the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. As a result of her work and that of others, the federal government in the 21st century relies on information technology policies and practices that are more modern and effective than those in force when the Federal 100 awards debuted in 1990.

Many of the dramatic changes were conceived and championed by the leaders who have been recognized with Federal 100 awards. Those people get excited — and sometimes moved — when they reflect on the changes.

"The transformation has been staggering in its depth and breadth," said Chip Mather, a former Air Force IT procurement innovator who now helps agencies with procurements as a consultant at Acquisition Solutions Inc.

"I'm sort of amazed that we did as well as we did," Brown said.

As veterans of the federal environment, whether working for the government or with a company supplying IT products and services to it

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