Departures leave leadership vacuum

Buylines | Policies, strategies and trends to watch

One of the most disturbing trends in Washington has been
the contentious, overly partisan environment in which
too many congressional hearings seem more focused on
assessing blame than finding solutions. Against that
backdrop, the departure of Comptroller General David Walker,
who led the Government Accountability Office, and the decision by
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) to not seek re-election, loom large.

The ubiquitous, always-direct and sometimes-
controversial Walker has been a voice
for rational thought and careful analysis.
Under his leadership, GAO has increasingly
become a source of solutions and support to
federal agencies.

When I served under Walker's chairmanship
on the Commercial Activities Panel, I
saw firsthand how thoughtful, strong leadership
could work effectively with widely
disparate interests to reach at least a modicum
of consensus. When we testified
together, as we did at a 2007 Senate hearing
on federal acquisition, Walker was a consistent
voice for balance and reason. He did
not hesitate to delineate the challenges the
government faces in acquisition ? particularly
in terms of developing and empowering
the federal acquisition workforce ? or
to make clear the need to hold companies
and the government accountable for their
actions.

Walker also emphasized that the vast
majority of contractors perform well and
honestly on behalf of their government customers.

In doing so, he reminded everyone
of the need to go beyond the headlines and
dig deeper to find and implement solutions
that will lead to real improvement. One
need not have always agreed with his positions,
but one could rarely
question the level of
thought or analysis that
went into them.

Similarly, Davis has been
a voice of reason. Although
some have referred to him
as a champion for government
contractors, the truth
is that he has been a champion
for balance. He has demonstrated the
increasingly rare ability and willingness to
work effectively across party lines and ideologies.
He also has continually shown a
willingness to immerse himself in sometimes
arcane yet important issues to a level
few in Congress can match. At the same
time, he never hesitated to challenge anyone
? including his congressional colleagues in
either party ? when he felt their analyses or
proposals were lacking intellectual rigor.

A passionate defender of federal employees
and their interests, Davis also vigorously
sought to ensure the government acquisition
process is accountable and able to facilitate
efficient delivery of services to the taxpayer.

For a decade he has been the most effective
leader in Congress on issues associated
with improving the federal government's
use of and access to information technology,
including attracting technology
workers to government ? and keeping
them once they're there. Further, like
Walker, he has been a leader on initiatives
to provide much expanded training
and resources to the federal acquisition
workforce.

Leaders like Walker and Davis are
increasingly in short supply. At a time
when the public is clearly distressed about
the mood and political climate
in Washington and increasingly
skeptical about their government's
ability to solve important
problems, the need for leaders
like Walker and Davis has never
been greater. Although Walker,
as head of the new Peter G.
Peterson Foundation, will continue
his impassioned crusade
for budgetary reform to address what he calls
the government's structural deficit, and Davis
will likely not stray far from the public arena,
their presence on Capitol Hill will be sorely
missed.

Stan Soloway (soloway@pscouncil.org) is president
of the Professional Services Council.

About the Author

Stan Soloway is president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council.

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