Fighting for his ideals
- By L. Scott Tillett, L. Scott Tillett
- Apr 18, 1999
Bert Concklin is no Boy Scout. In fact, when he was a kid growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia in the 1940s, he got thrown out of the Cub Scouts for fighting.
And the monkeyshines didn't end there. Concklin - president of the Professional Services Council, a group that lobbies for federal contractors - admits he was an "intermittent juvenile delinquent," breaking windows, helping set fire to an abandoned wooden factory and heaping enough scrap metal on railroad tracks to make freight trains jump the track. Often, the pranks ended with Concklin and his friends fleeing the neighborhood police.
Concklin, now 63, still runs, but he runs for his health, and no cops follow on his heels. He also retains an impressive collection of toys, such as a classic pedal car and a 1935 Blue Comet toy train.
And he still believes that working for the government is a grand endeavor. "I think it's a legitimate and noble calling," said Concklin, who has bounced in and out of government jobs over the years.
Concklin earned a bachelor of science degree in engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1958. His contemporaries there included Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Iran-contra figures John Poindexter and Bud McFarlane, both former national security advisers. Those contemporaries have been portrayed as men who believe strongly in America, a belief Concklin said he also holds.
"I do have it," he said of his strong belief in his country, "but it has scar tissue and Band-Aids and screws holding bones together. It's been assaulted."
Concklin's government service began in the Air Force, where he immersed himself in systems programming and R&D projects. After three years, he moved to General Electric Co. but returned to the Air Force a few years later as a civil servant.
In the early 1960s, Concklin found himself eyeing a position with an up-and-coming information technology contractor called Computer Sciences Corp. He joined the company as its 110th employee.
In 1969, he got the notion that he wanted to be a White House fellow. He didn't get the White House job he wanted, but he was offered a position as a management fellow at the Office of Management and Budget. There, he helped develop a computer system to gauge the effectiveness of selected government programs. The project, set in the mainframe era, was a harbinger of the emphasis now placed on capturing data to measure results of agencies' initiatives. But the system never developed as envisioned.
Two years later, President Nixon decided to create the Cost of Living Council - an organization that would control prices and wages across the entire American economy. The council would grow to include nearly 3,000 people, including about 20 whiz kids from OMB. Concklin was one of them. Other executive branch whizzes working at the council included George Schultz, who later became secretary of State, and Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, future secretaries of Defense.
The council was not very popular. Concklin said protesters turned pigs loose in the building, and owners of gas stations that were closed because of price constraints dropped off boxes of gas station keys at the council. Once, an irate citizen threatened Conck-lin with a gun. Eventually, the council was shut down, and Concklin leveraged his experience with OMB and the council to move on to high-profile jobs at the Federal Energy Administration and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
He re-entered the private sector in 1977 as a consultant and ended up helping run government relations at PRC Inc. There, Concklin became involved with the fledgling Professional Services Council. He and other leaders at IT firms began building the organization's membership and visibility on Capitol Hill. In the early 1990s, Concklin became president of the organization.
As president of the council, Concklin's job is to keep members focused on issues that affect them, such as procurement reform. Last year, Concklin and leaders of other industry associations failed to persuade Congress to pass a law that would require federal agencies to outsource all functions that are not "inherently governmental." As a compromise, Congress passed and the president signed the Federal Activities Inventory Reform Act, which requires agencies to make lists of federal activities that might be performed by the private sector.
Despite the travails of his career so far, Concklin - who describes himself as "a pragmatic idealist" - said he hasn't lost hope for improving the government.
"I am passionately and continuously concerned about the quality of government," he said. "I think the government should be smaller, but it should be excellent. All too often, it's average or below average."