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By Steve Kelman

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ELC: A sour mood?

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- Sunday evening was the beginning of ACT/IAC's annual Executive Leadership Conference of the Industry Advisory Council/American Council on Technology. With 850 attendess (about 250 government, the rest industry), this is the premier government IT conference of the year.

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Three people buttonholded me at dinner tonight to tell me what was on their minds -- a small business manager, an executive from a large business, and a middle-upper middle federal career manager. What struck me was that all of them were in a complaining mood.

The small business griped that government program managers only wanted to work with large businesses, who ripped them off, seldom bothered with seeking competition, and were oblivious to the cost savings his products offered. The big business executive complained that Congress was creating an environment where government and industry were no longer able to talk with each other, where attention to quibbles was replacing attention to results, and where agencies were unwilling to make any of the tough decisions necessary to achieve successful business transformations. The government manager groused that more and more requirements, reports, and oversight were being laid on understaffed organizations, and that the the talent pool was growing really thin as experienced hands retire, increasing the risk of mistakes and in turn generating more oversight, reviews, and second-guessing. The new people coming in would eventually be very good, he argued, but now people were being promoted to grade levels well beyond the skills they had developed.

Interestingly, both the large business executive and the government manager felt that the push for more transparency was creating lots of additional work for little additional benefit. Government is already incredibly transparent compared with other institutions in society, both were saying. (The manager of the small business didn't mention transparency.)

People like to complain, of course, but I must say -- as an almost 20-year veteran of ELC conferences -- this level of complaint and sourness struck me as really high. I don't have an explanation -- I'm only reporting. I think the mixture of the oversight environnment and people problems/shortages is fraying the fabric of government and the government-industry interface. We have some significant repair work to do.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Oct 26, 2009 at 12:08 PM

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