Now playing: 'Revolution in Business Affairs'
- By Dan Verton
- Jun 06, 1999
As the driving force behind the Defense Department's major acquisition reform initiative - known as the "Revolution in Business Affairs" - Stan Soloway is among the most influential officials in DOD.
As deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition reform and the newly appointed leader of the department's overall business process reform effort, Soloway, perhaps more than any other DOD official, is in a position to change the culture of the department for years to come.
However, when Soloway first arrived in Washington, D.C., in 1975 as a consultant for a small start-up public affairs consulting firm, the last thing on his mind was working in the Pentagon or, for that matter, leading a revolution.
"I have honestly never plotted out my career and have no idea what I will be doing five or 10 years from now," Soloway said. "In fact, if you had suggested to me five years ago that I would be doing this, I would have thought you were nuts."
The consulting job, which he left after six years, gave Soloway his first exposure to DOD issues. And one of the firm's clients, a little-known congressman named William Cohen, would play a more influential role in Soloway's future than anyone could have known at the time.
Soloway, a native of Boston, graduated from Denison University in Ohio in 1975 with a bachelor's degree in political science. While attending Denison, Soloway excelled in journalism, particularly college radio, and harbored a burning desire to become involved in film and TV.
By the early 1980s Soloway began dividing his time between his public affairs consulting practice and producing local film and TV. Working with a Boston-based company, Soloway helped produce a series of Public Broadcasting Service specials, including a live debate between then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and the head of the European Nuclear Freeze Movement, E.P. Thompson. A subsequent special featured the Rev. Jerry Falwell and New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange debating the morality of nuclear weapons, and another had Steve Allen and Alan King debating two British comedians on the notion that Englishmen are funnier than Americans.
Soloway also helped develop several TV movies and a TV series for Warner Bros., but none were picked up. "In short, I always say I never got involved in television and film production to get rich or famous, and from that perspective it worked out very well," Soloway said.
Having missed his shot at becoming the next Steven Spielberg, Soloway entered the 1990s working on public policy issues once again, this time for an industry consortium concerned with contracting with the government. It was about this time that the Clinton administration came along and turned its attention to reforming government, and industry formed the Acquisition Reform Working Group. Soloway became involved with the ARWG right from the start and also was an active member of other industry groups.
"On a substantive level, I think my involvement with industry...enabled me to bring to this position a slightly different perspective and, I believe, a strong degree of objectivity as to what the real issues are that need to be tackled," Soloway said. "In some areas, my views were not always in consonance with those of some of my colleagues in industry, and the same is true within DOD. But I had the opportunity to work with individual companies and gained extremely valuable insights into the challenges they face and the ways in which our current system exacerbates those challenges."
Once at DOD, Soloway was able to use his industry experience to the department's benefit in the area of public/private competition. "While I understand the philosophical opposition to the very idea of the government essentially competing with its citizens, I am also well aware that in most cases where competitive sourcing has worked well, some form of managed, public/private competition has been a key element," Soloway said. "The issue, therefore, that I am most concerned about is how we conduct the competitions and that we ensure [that] both our work force and the private sector walk away feeling they got a fair shake."
Central to Soloway's success has been his ability to communicate with the public and private sectors. He also has a keen understanding of the techniques available to get his message out. Examples include his use of electronic town hall meetings, a focus on distance learning for the acquisition community and monthly briefings with the press, where Soloway invites reporters into his office to talk about the ever-changing Defense reform and acquisition road map.
"In my town hall meetings, I often refer back to congressional hearings on [the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act] in 1993," he said. "One small-business man told the committee that in the commercial world, the degree to which one communicates with one's customers is a mark of excellence, but in dealing with government business, that very communication can get you thrown in jail. I think acquisition reform has really changed that paradigm."
Despite many positive changes, Soloway believes DOD is not where it needs to be. "Not only do we have additional policy challenges to take on, but we have quite a ways to go to truly inculcate reform into our acquisition culture," he said. "And that means we must do a better job of providing our work force with the tools, through various kinds of training and education, they need to implement the tasks we have given them."
With all that is on his plate, Soloway insisted that his 12-hour days are not any different than those experienced by most working people. "My family is most important, and I do my very best to balance work and home life," he said.
"I have learned an enormous amount," he continued. "And of course, I am also getting a rare opportunity to do what I really love to do at a level that holds out at least the possibility of having a real impact. When I was thinking about this position and wondering if it was something I could or should do, my wife looked at me one night and asked, 'How can you not do it?' She was right."