A tribute to a pioneer advocate for small disadvantaged businesses in government contracting
Steve Kelman remembers Centech founder Fernando Galaviz.
Fernando Galaviz died recently at the age of 87 in northern Virginia. Born in Mexico, he came to the U.S. as a child. He was born with a congenital eye disease, and by middle age he was legally blind.
I first dealt with Galaviz when I was administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy during the Clinton administration. As administrator, I regarded my main goal as working to improve the performance of the contracting system in delivering results for agencies and taxpayers.
I was, frankly, concerned that the system focused too much on what in those days was called "socio-economic programs" in government contracting, by which meant increasing contracting with small and small, disadvantaged businesses. I wasn’t opposed to such efforts, but I worried they took the focus of the procurement system away from its primary goal of promoting the best substantive procurement results.
At the time, Galaviz was the head of an association of 8(a) contractors and CEO of a small company called Centech that he had founded in 1988 after serving in government positions in the Carter administration. He posted his opinions, but he was not a regular at industry-government IT confabs.
Given where I was coming from and where Galaviz was coming from, I was surprised to receive one, maybe two, emails from him while I was in the government applauding my procurement reform efforts. That didn’t correspond to my stereotype that many small business contractors were more interested in getting contract dollars than in actually doing a good job for the government.
We started interacting with each other in person a few years after I left the government. He was trying to establish a more organized business arrangement for his company, rather than the one-man show the company had been. As part of this he wanted to establish a board of directors, which he asked me to join.
Before it really was able to get going, he had a stroke that significantly incapacitated him and left him unable to speak. I have always been somebody who believes the time to show support for others is when they are down, not when they are up, so after Galaviz’s stroke I started being in touch with him more, not less. I got to know one of his seven children, Jonathan, who did PR for American companies trying to expand to Asia, and we shared stories about China and about Asian stock markets. I began to write to Galaviz regularly just so he would know I cared. Jonathan told me his dad frequently asked about me. Galaviz was Mexican, and I was Jewish, but we both shared an immigrant family background and a belief in the greatness of American diversity.
A number of years ago I started learning Spanish, and said to him I hoped I would get good enough to speak with him in Spanish; unfortunately, my Spanish progressed pathetically, and he had a stroke before we were able to have a Spanish conversation.
And he made a number of comments to me in those years – whose specifics unfortunately I can’t remember now – showing his commitment to a contracting system that performed.
Centech is mostly in the IT services business. Their most important product is for managing the security clearance process; they manage approximately half the government’s security clearance cases for civilian government and contract workers, according to the company's website. They also manage data centers and have people who do custom software code development. 70% of the company’s work is for the Air Force.
Galaviz represents a generation of small-business contractors who are older and less polished than many we see today. His garb, to exaggerate a bit, was less yuppie and more blue collar. But at the risk of offending the current generation, I would say he was perhaps more genuine than those who have succeeded him.
Centech has had a rough few years. They did ok in the first few years after graduating from the 8(a) program. After Galaviz’s stroke, he stopped doing much to get new business. The company went from 350 to 50 employees. Galaviz had earlier been offered $50 million for the company, but ended up selling it for $4 million.
The new owners brought in a new CEO from SAIC, who is trying now to rebuild the company. I really hope he succeeds. This would be a nice legacy for this pioneer.