Booz Allen's Shrader: People, process and attitude are the keys to better partnership

Booz Allen Hamilton's Ralph Shrader discusses a three-point strategy for industry and government to take teaming to a new level.

Yes, I’m a hockey fan. Living and working in the Washington, D.C., area, it was great to see the excitement around the Caps this spring — and I don’t think it’s just because they were the only D.C. team that was a playoff contender. There’s something about hockey — about the intensity, complexity and strategy of a winning hockey team, which scores goals most often as a result of great assists. In fact, it’s that combination of intensity driven by a strategy of collaboration that makes hockey the perfect metaphor for government/industry teamwork.

Public/private partnerships are by no means a new concept — think of the Erie Canal, interstate highway system and Apollo program. The most important challenges of the 21st century — from the economy and cybersecurity to national defense and environmental protection — will require the thinking and resources that only public/private teamwork can provide.

Although government officials clearly need to set policy, be in command and carry out inherently governmental functions, industry teammates can bring innovation, specialized expertise, and value to help win the peace and prosperity that citizens want and expect from government. Unfortunately, the current debate over what the government should do and what industry should do is putting public and private sectors on opposing teams.

I firmly believe that it's time — and it's imperative — that we take teaming to a new level across government and industry. With a new mindset focused more on goals and less on the penalty box and who’s to blame, we can gain the power of collaboration, deep expertise and broad understanding.

So how do we take this deep commitment to our collective mission and shared goals across government and industry to a new level?

I see the way forward in three dimensions: people, process and attitude. In keeping with the hockey analogy, it’s about having the best athletes who understand multiple positions and roles, it’s about improving the rules of the game, and it’s about having spirited, passionate and well-behaved fans on the sidelines.

* People. It’s time to challenge the misperception behind the pejorative term “revolving door.” Certainly, there must be oversight to avoid conflicts, but the most insightful and committed leaders I know in this community have worked in both government and industry. Two who exemplify the value of bringing strong capabilities from both sectors are Charles Rossotti and Mike McConnell.

After co-founding and serving as chief executive officer of American Management Systems, Rossotti became commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service. He brought to government service the perspective of someone who had been in a competitive industry environment that forces you to look at what’s happening in the marketplace and at how your competitors are moving for advantage. He also emphasized how much he learned in government, especially about the demands of public scrutiny and the value of deeply understanding opposing points of view.

Today, Rossotti brings to his work on corporate boards a strong focus on ethics and compliance as a result of his experience in government and industry.

McConnell joined Booz Allen after a career in the Navy and the intelligence community, which culminated in his tenure as director of the National Security Agency. At our firm, he helped build strong capabilities in information assurance, information operations and infrastructure protection. He returned to government service in early 2007 as director of national intelligence, focusing on the critical need to improve cybersecurity. President Barack Obama has asked him to serve on the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board.

McConnell’s experience in government and the private sector makes him highly effective as a visionary leader in national security and critical infrastructure protection.

* Process. There is an inherent sacred trust in the mission of government. The work is critically important, and it is funded by taxpayer dollars. Integrity in the procurement process is therefore of paramount concern. Unfortunately, in an effort to regulate behavior and avoid conflicts of interest, the pendulum has swung so far that we’ve created an overly complex and adversarial acquisition process.

We need more dialogue and more opportunity for a productive, beneficial collaboration at the strategy and implementation levels. We should not have a rigid system that hamstrings our contracting officers and acquisition executives with prescriptive rules that reduce their ability to exercise their best business judgment.

If we in industry can spend more time working with the government to better understand the problems and desired outcomes — and not just a set of detailed requirements — then industry can come up with more innovative and effective solutions. A good example is the novel defense against improvised explosive devices we helped develop for the Army. The project was fast-tracked from prototype to field deployment and is already saving allied troops’ lives.

Working collaboratively, with a pay structure based on performance and value rather than simply level of effort, we as a nation can unleash our best talent and resources against the toughest problems.

* Attitude. It’s time for the pursuit of common ground to render politicization null and void.

One of the most important keys to success is giving the other person the benefit of the doubt and accepting the validity of his or her position — even if it differs significantly from our own. For too long, pre-emptive attacks, escalation and distortion have dominated the scene here in Washington. We’re the center of government and a key force in the economy, so it’s high time we cleaned up our act and improved our attitudes.

The bottom line is that we need to do a better job of reminding ourselves in industry and government — and the interest groups and politicians on the sidelines — that we are on the same team, facing the same challenges and working toward the same goals.

As the hockey fan in me would say: The puck stops here.

Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., McLean, Va., is No. 10 on Washington Technology’s 2009 Top 100 list of the largest federal government prime contractors.

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