6 reasons to love the Government Contractor Awards Gala

The annual awards program honors companies and individuals, and serves as a reminder about what's good about government contracting.

Each year, Washington Technology, the Professional Services Council, the Fairfax Chamber of Commerce, and a host of sponsors put on the Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards.

The winners are picked in the categories of contractor of the year, executive of the year, public sector partner and hall of fame. More than 900 people attend and the winners don’t know they’ve won until their name is called.

Here’s why the dinner has become one of my favorite events of the year: 

    * The celebration. It’s an opportunity to put aside the problems and issues that face the market and to forget about scandals and mistakes. The night focuses on the good things going on in the industry and is a good reminder that there is a lot to be proud of. 

    * Great quotes. Such as comments made by Timothy Keenan, president of High Performance Technoloies Inc., which was named contractor of the year in the $25 million to $75 million range. He quoted former baseball great, Vernon Law: “Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first and the lesson afterward.” A great observation for today’s market. 

    * The characters. David Drabkin from the General Services Administration won the public sector partner of the year award. His was the first “Aw, shucks” moment when he thanked his wife of 34 years for following him all over the world as he built his successful career. Then in his unique style, he added: “She reminds me I’m only human, and that’s hard because sometimes I have a very large ego.” 

    * The humor. Each year, Rich LaFluer of Grant Thornton and Craig Chasson of Winthrop Pillsbury Shaw Pittman – the co-chairs of the event – put together a Top 10 list. One year it was 10 signs your company is for sale. For this year’s gala, they presented their Top 10 predictions for the future. My favorite was No. 10: The government takes control of the Redskins and offensive coordinator Tim Geitner installs an offense referred to as “the Public Option.” 

    * The humility. “Someday I’d like to meet the person you are talking about,” said Al Nashman, following a glowing introduction by Mike Laphen, Computer Sciences Corp.’s chairman, chief executive officer and president. Nashman, this year’s hall of fame inductee, worked at CSC for 27 years, retiring in 1992 after taking their annual federal business from $16 million to over $1 billion. He’s considered the architect of government contracting business model. But Nashman is quick to deflect those kinds of compliments. Instead, he took time during his speech to tell Laphen, a former subordinate at CSC, the pride he felt watching his career progress to such heights at CSC. 

Al Nashman and John Warner

Al Nashman, left, and John Warner were among the honorees at the Greater Washington Contractor Award gala Nov. 4. Nashman, a former Computer Sciences Corp. executive, was given the hall of fame award. Warner, the former U.S. senator from Virgnia, recieved a special leadership award.

    * The poignant moments. It never fails: Each year one of the honorees tells some story or makes some comment that brings a tear to my eye. This year, it was former U.S. Sen. John Warner, who received a special leadership award. With a voice that has lost none of its somber timbre, Warner quoted the Star Spangle Banner: “Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” Just hearing those words being read, rather than sung, gave me a chill, but then Warner used that quote to remind us to remember the troops who have served and continue to serve today so that we can live in a “land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Yes, it still gets to me a day later.

For the complete list of winners and finalists click here.