Aronie: The Eagle and the Arrow

Editor’s note: Federal Computer Week asked a number of thought leaders about their ideas on GSA given the departure of Lurita Doan. We are including their columns in this issue and the May 19 issue.

With plastic arrows sticking out of her head, shoulders, arms and legs, Lurita Doan addressed a gathering of General Services Administration schedules contractors and contracting officers last month at GSA Expo. “Making innovative changes to tired programs is not easy,” she began. “You have to expect taking some shots. Just look at me!”

Doan said the arrows symbolized the wounds she has suffered from pushing reforms, encouraging innovation and venturing into hostile territory. This one is for trying to improve government programs, she said, removing one arrow from her arm. This one is for moving too quickly, she said, plucking a second arrow from her leg. And so it went — one arrow after another, one battle after another.

But for many of us who, during the past 22 months, have watched GSA become a target of those same arrows, Doan’s self-portrait of an embattled victim of anti-reform, anti-innovative hostiles comes across as incomplete.

Unquestionably, Doan waged bold battles during her tenure as GSA’s administrator. Her push for greater accountability, clarity and transparency were causes worth fighting for. And it did seem that she waged those battles with sincerity in the interest of progress, reform and innovation.

However, at some point, the battlefield dynamics shifted. The barbs hurled  among leaders at GSA and individuals in GSA’s Office of Inspector General, Congress and the media suddenly were less about GSA’s future and more about Doan’s future. When that happens, the battles, regardless of how noble the original cause, devolve into distractions — sideshows that waste time, divert attention and deplete energy.

People are fond of describing Washington politics as different from politics in the rest of the world, but its politics are not that different. The rules that govern success in Washington are the same as those that govern success in any company, association or even household across this nation: Play well with others, pick your battles, be humble.

Failures to appreciate those guiding principles inside government inevitably will attract the same arrows they do when we violate them outside government. In the end, it was Doan’s neglect of those principles more than her commitment to reform, her innovative spirit or her passion for GSA that led to her downfall.
 
In “The Eagle and the Arrow,” Aesop tells the story of an eagle soaring through the air when suddenly it hears the whiz of an arrow and feels wounded. The eagle looks at the arrow protruding from its body and sees that the arrow is made from its feathers.

Aesop writes: “‘It is a double grief to me that I should perish by an arrow feathered from my own wings,’  the eagle exclaimed.” Unfortunately, many of the arrows shot at Doan were similarly feathered.

Aronie (jaronie@sheppardmullin.com or 202-218-0039) is a partner in the government contracts group of Sheppard Mullin Richter and Hampton in Washington and co-author of “Multiple Award Schedule Contracting.”

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