The government should tap industry knowledge, but it must also be wary of ethical concerns.
As ethics debates reach a high pitch, the revolving door between government and industry has become a major concern of many public interest groups.
The worry is that as people move back and forth between the public and private sectors, they become caught up in conflicts of interest and abandon the public good in favor of helping boost contractor profits. Vice President Dick Cheney and Halliburton’s Iraq contracts are prime examples for those concerned about the revolving door, but there are others.
There is a difference between most people in government and industry and people who work for organizations that identify themselves as public interest groups. Why? Because those on the front lines know that government programs can’t succeed if government and industry don’t share information.
The long-term solution, of course, is to make government an employer of choice. But that would require significant changes, not the least of which is making government salaries competitive.
By many measures, the revolving door is good for government. It forces government and industry to walk in one another’s shoes. Government officials can experience firsthand the challenges facing government contractors, and industry officials can see close-up how federal agencies operate.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, incorporated a public/private exchange program in the Services Acquisition Reform Act. That program formalizes the exchange of ideas between government and industry by allowing a temporary exchange of high-performing acquisition professionals among participating federal agencies and private-sector entities.
We tend to agree with the Government Accountability Office, which said the exchange program lets agencies benefit from private-sector knowledge and expertise. But we believe that idea exchanges also help contractors understand agency concerns and challenges and enable them to support agencies more effectively.
Any program that fosters more conversations between government and industry will benefit agencies as they tackle complex problems. Federal agencies face many difficult and critical challenges, and they must be able to tap the expertise of the best and the brightest, whether those people are in the public or private sectors.
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