By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Contracting and the fall of Rome?

On a brief one-day stopover at my home in Boston before leaving for a talk at a government procurement conference in Ohio and the annual acquisition research conference at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., I packed my suitcase with a bunch of magazines that had arrived while I was in Europe -- to read on the plane, at meals when I ate alone and while walking on hotel treadmills.

This morning at the gym in Monterey, I opened the June issue of Vanity Fair, and guess what I saw in the Editor's Letter from Graydon Carter?

"In [an] excerpt from his new book, 'Are We Rome?,' due out in May, [Cullen] Murphy examines one of the underlying causes of the fall of the Roman Empire: privatization. Similarly, Murphy says, the U.S. 'has embarked on a privatization binge like no other in its history.' The firms the work is being outsourced to, he says, not only are taking over nearly every vital function of government but also are unregulated and unaccountable to the public."

Now it's the fall of Rome?

I read the piece by Murphy. It is over the top and very poorly argued -- handed in as a student paper, it wouldn't have gotten a good grade. It should be noted that he also includes under the rubric "privatization" a lot more than just contracting.

Nonetheless, this article is a sign of a new reality about debates about contracting. As I noted in an earlier post, the subject of contracting is so boring that the only way to get any public attention for it is to engage in wild rhetoric, a Don Imus-style public debate.

It is difficult to have a sensible public debate because there are so few sound bites that can be feasibly developed for a sensible position. About the only sound bites on the "other side" involve offensive rhetoric about needing contractors as an alternative to incompetent civil servants, which is no better than the fall of Rome stuff.

Any ideas about dealing with this dilemma?

Posted by Steve Kelman on May 16, 2007 at 12:08 PM


Featured

  • Telecommunications
    Stock photo ID: 658810513 By asharkyu

    GSA extends EIS deadline to 2023

    Agencies are getting up to three more years on existing telecom contracts before having to shift to the $50 billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions vehicle.

  • Workforce
    Shutterstock image ID: 569172169 By Zenzen

    OMB looks to retrain feds to fill cyber needs

    The federal government is taking steps to fill high-demand, skills-gap positions in tech by retraining employees already working within agencies without a cyber or IT background.

  • Acquisition
    GSA Headquarters (Photo by Rena Schild/Shutterstock)

    GSA to consolidate multiple award schedules

    The General Services Administration plans to consolidate dozens of its buying schedules across product areas including IT and services to reduce duplication.

Stay Connected

FCW Update

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.