Nick Wakeman

Fiscal crisis creates unique business opportunity

Now is the time to move beyond rhetoric and into action

As the government teeters on the brink of a shutdown, it’s important to look past the political posturing and rhetoric.

A fiscal 2011 budget might not be approved by March 18, and the government might close for a time. But it won’t be forever. This silly game of chicken will pass.

I say, ignore Capitol Hill. I had an editor many years ago who said 90 percent of what goes on in Congress is BS. And he didn’t say that politely.

It is a given that budgets will be cut, no matter which party or faction prevails. But what won’t get cut is the mission of government and the support it needs from contractors.

As I wrote in a post on my "Business Beat" blog last month, the fiscal crisis we face is a great opportunity for contractors and government to revamp their relationship.

For more than a year, we’ve talked about how smart contractors need to market their ability to help agencies save money.

Now is the time to move beyond marketing hype. It also is time for the government to move beyond the rhetoric of collaboration and be fearless about talking to contractors. The government must change its view of partnership so that it doesn’t translate into all the risk being put on the contractors' shoulders.

What is needed is willingness on both sides to sit down and talk about how to reduce costs while protecting an agency's mission and contractors' profits. And yes, government, profit isn't a dirty word. Both sides of the equation need to be considered.

I’m not talking only about discussions about upcoming procurements. The real opportunity is to take contracts already awarded and look for ways to be creative in saving money.

Finding shared-savings opportunities is the first thing that comes to mind. Perhaps there are processes and procedures that needlessly eat up resources. Maybe old technology can be replaced with more efficient products. But industry, you need to present a valid return on investment.

The government also needs to let go of the mentality of counting heads and hours of contractors and focusing on results. Forget about statements of work; write statements of objectives. Sure, that’s harder, but focus on the payoff. Be open to new ways of solving problems.

From an industry point of view, that isn’t about protecting top-line dollars. Face it, those are going to take a hit. But it can be about becoming a partner with your customers. It’s about being innovative. And that is how you can protect your margins and workforce.

Not to sound overly dramatic, but the sheer magnitude of the budget crisis has created a huge opportunity to drastically change how contractors and government work together. And that is a good thing that can benefit the government, contractors and, most importantly, taxpayers.

We just need to be bold enough to go for it.

About the Author

Nick Wakeman is the editor-in-chief of Washington Technology. Follow him on Twitter: @nick_wakeman.

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