Aronie: That's 'Dee' to my friends

A chance meeting ends up recruiting a partner in the quest to 'get it right'

Have you ever talked to someone whom you clearly have met before but don't recognize until you're well into the conversation — or worse, until after it has ended? That happened to me at the General Services Administration's Expo 2005 conference in San Diego in May.

I had some time to kill before leading a training session, so I attended a presentation about out-of-scope purchases using GSA schedule contracts, an issue I address frequently. Although the presentation was good, its topic generated significant unease among the audience. One woman, who clearly worked for the government, exhibited particular frustration about the lack of guidance on the subject.

Being the congenial guy that I am, I approached the woman after the presentation. I knew that I couldn't say much to assuage her concerns, though. She had every right to be frustrated.

The question of whether a particular service is within or beyond the scope of a particular schedule contract is complex. Five experts will give you five different answers. Perhaps I just wanted to share in her frustration. After all, I suspected that the issue kept my clients up at night as much as, if not more than, the feds.

We had an enjoyable and — I thought — intellectually stimulating conversation. After a while, however, the woman said something that struck me as rather naïve. "We need to change the rules so that neither the government nor the contractors are put at risk," she said.

Change the rules? Was she that new to the government? Sure, maybe David Drabkin, GSA's deputy chief acquisition officer; Deidre Lee, the Defense Department's procurement director; or Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) could initiate a change in the rules, but regular Janes and Joes like her and me? Come on now.

But she persisted. "If the system is broken, then we need to fix it," she said. She was firm in her conviction. Her resolve was refreshing and — I must admit — a little infectious.

It was getting late, though, and neither she nor I could solve the scope issue between presentations. I had to get ready for my speech, and she probably had to get going, too. I thanked her for her time and wished her a good conference. She thanked me in return and left the presentation surrounded by a large group. That should have been a clue.

I walked out behind her with a friend of mine. As we left the room, my friend turned to me and whispered, "So what were you talking to Dee Lee about for so long?"

True story.

So thanks for your time Ms. Lee. But more importantly, thank you for your resolve, your commitment to getting it right for the government and for contractors, and, I hope, your sense of humor.

As you leave DOD to join GSA, if you need any support in your quest to reduce the risk to contractors in relation to the out-of-scope contracting issue, I'm your man. n

Aronie is a partner in the government contracts group of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton in Washington, D.C., and co-author of "Multiple Award Schedule Contracting." He can be reached at jaronie@sheppardmullin.com or (202) 218-0039.

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