Former feds put expertise to work

A new consulting firm launched this month in the Washington, D.C., area is the latest example of government contracting pros hanging out a new shingle: ICG Government is led by Paul Brubaker and Don Upson.

Brubaker served as deputy chief information officer at the Defense Department and then as chief executive officer at Aquilent Inc., a government-focused professional services firm, before leaving the company last fall to become a consultant. Upson was Virginia's secretary of technology and then senior vice president of business operations for webMethods Inc.'s federal unit until last month.

Alan Balutis, former director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Advanced Technology Program and new president and chief operating officer of Pennsylvania-based services firm Veridyne Inc., will serve part-time at ICG. Research firm Input will provide data and analysis. Like Input, ICG is based in Chantilly, Va.

That's a lot of firepower in one office and ICG is hardly alone. When federal contracting officials leave government, they often end up as advisers.

Some consultants counsel companies seeking to expand their business in the federal market, while others help agency technology leaders comply with rapidly changing rules and attitudes about procurement. Julie Holdren, founder of Twin-Soft Corp. in Washington, D.C., has been talking to potential federal clients with help from an Arlington, Va.-based consultancy called the PMA Group.

"This company was specifically set up to target the federal market," Holdren said. "I know the technology and I know how to execute, but I don't know the market, so [the counsel is] invaluable."

The consulting business has always been strong, but the changing business climate for federal procurement means that different areas of expertise are needed now, said Phil Kiviat, a veteran consultant who late last year formed a new firm with Robert Guerra and Jim Flyzik, who had just left the White House's Office of Homeland Security.

Once, low price was the key to winning government contracts, and consultants fanned out to show companies how they could deliver the work at a price likely to beat their competitors, Kiviat said. Procurement reform measures have radically changed that environment.

"Having a strong government background at the senior level is quite important," he said. "It helps you understand the nature of the government job and helps you understand the intricate relationships in getting something done. You're not selling people things anymore; you're solving their problems."

"Consultants provide fresh ideas, new concepts and identify innovative opportunities for improvements that may not otherwise have been considered," said Pat Schambach, the Transportation Security Administration's chief information officer.

Acquisition Solutions Inc. helped TSA develop the performance-based, multiyear Information Technology Managed Services contract to build an IT infrastructure. The agency awarded the contract to Unisys Corp. just three months after issuing a statement of objectives for the program.

Performance-based contracting, in which agencies describe what they need to accomplish rather than giving detailed instructions to their contractors, is one of the new approaches that consultants have to help agencies understand, said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions.

Agency officials are too busy doing their daily work to step back and think about the processes they use or ways to make them better, said Mather, who retired from the Air Force contracting office and started his firm in 1996 after 20 years in federal procurement.

"Now I have a chance to reflect on the process," he said. "My inbox isn't being flooded with day-to-day work. We've become a think tank."

Even the most well-established firms need help with changing procurement rules, John Ortego said. He left the the Agriculture Department's National Finance Center in New Orleans and opened his own consultancy there earlier this month. Big players including Computer Sciences Corp., BEA Systems Inc. and a major telecommunications firm he declined to identify started calling right away, he said.

"They share the same goal: to deliver a quality product at a reasonable price so they can be more successful," he said. "The government has changed much, even for the old pros."

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