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Should Steve Kelman stay quiet on reverse auctions?


After Steve Kelman posted an entry to his FCW blog, The Lectern, on reverse auctions, several readers were critical. Kelman, as he disclosed, is on the board of FedBid, a provider of reverse auction services. The General Services Administration's new reverse auction platform competes with FedBid, some readers argued, making it hard for someone with an interest in FedBid to be objective.

I believe Professor Kelman continues to be out of line in commenting on reverse auctions in any form, wrote one. He is biased toward question about it. The fact that he admits he's a paid employee of FedBid doesn't eliminate his bias ... He is painting a false picture by comparing GSA with FedBid, and he's doing it intentionally to cast doubt on GSA.

Another wrote: Mr. Kelman is crossing the line based on his personal relationship with FedBid. Come on Steve, you can't provide "independent" commentary on a topic of personal gain! You may want to retake a Harvard course on ethics/integrity. Awhile back you were on GTSI's Board when they were debarred - think you should stick to teaching and out of profiting from both. You did a great job at OFPP but not on the Boards you are on!!! Sorry, no passing grade here!

Steve Kelman responds: I appreciate the comments on my recent blog post on the GSA reverse auction site, arguing that I should not comment on reverse auctions at all because I am on the FedBid Board of Advisors.

I think the comments raise a fair issue, which I would like to address.

Anytime I say anything about reverse auctions, including in this post, I mention my association with FedBid. I believe that reverse auctions are an important enough procurement innovation, and represent an important enough cost-cutting strategy in tight budget times, to be of enough general interest sometimes to warrant comments in the blog -- just as are the many other procurement innovations and cost-savings issues I also discuss in the blog. I believe I can be reasonably objective in discussing these issues, but I feel it is my obligation to discuss my business relationship in case a reader wishes to discount what I say only for that reason.

However, the critical comments did not all raise substantive arguments about why anything I said in the blog was wrong. I think there is in general a problem in public discourse that people sometimes attack the bona fides of the person making a comment rather than discussing the substance of the comment. This is problematic and troubling.

Second, based on some of the comments, I suspect -- though of course I can’t know for sure -- that some of them come from people who work for companies that face increasing competition, and probably have had to lower their prices, because the government is now using reverse auctions. Yet, unlike me, no commenters disclosed any personal interest they might have in the issue of reverse auctions.

One commenter made a reference to GTSI, on whose board I served before the company was taken over. Because there were no general issues raised by GTSI’s problems with the Small Business Administration several years ago, I wrote nothing about this at the time. However, since the commenter raises this question, I will take this opportunity to note that an SBA-appointed monitor made an extensive investigation of GTSI’s business practices in terms of small business, and told the board of directors that their investigation showed no evidence at all of any systematic problem with GTSI’s business practices, and that even in the one specific incident that produced the SBA action, it was a matter of legitimate dispute whether GTSI’s actions did or did not violate the regulations.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jul 19, 2013 at 12:00 PM


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