Nader encourages feds to serve citizens better

CAMBRIDGE, Md.?The federal government's move to become more businesslike is missing its mark, advocate Ralph Nader told a group of mostly federal IT officials last night.

Nader, former presidential candidate and founder of the citizen activist group Public Citizen, said agencies are outsourcing too often, are not transparent enough to citizens, and are silenced by lobbyists from creating new industry regulations. He also said they should use their purchasing power to set standards and policies in the software industry.

"Commercial language is sweeping the government," Nader said during the opening dinner of the Interagency Resources Management Council conference. "Customers are not citizens because the citizens own the agencies. They deserve to be served, and not sold to, like you are an insurance salesman."

But amid this push to be more businesslike, agencies are not doing a good job in promoting themselves, Nader said.

"No one knows who you are or what you do," he said. "I've been trying to get people to understand what you do for the past 30 years. But politicians beat up on you and call you bureaucrats, and that dissuades young people from going into government."

Nader, who spoke for more than 75 minutes, touched on variety of challenges that feds face, but the one common theme was the need for government to fix its procurement system.

"Contract law is dying," Nader said. "All of it is one-sided toward the company. Government attorneys don't do the job they should and there is not enough transparency."

Nader called for the Office of Management and Budget to follow through on its June Federal Register notice, which asked for public comments on whether to put all contracts online.

He also said vendors are responsible for many of the systems failures in government.

"Outsourcing has become wasteful and too politically charged," Nader said. "It gets entrenched in government, and it ends up costing more. There needs to be less outsourcing. Agencies such as the departments of Agriculture, Defense and Energy and NASA outsource too much."

The degree of outsourcing ends up affecting policy decisions, Nader added.

Nader also said agencies should solve software issues concerning security and standards by demanding these criteria in its procurements. He also said the government should rein in Microsoft Corp.

"The government should use its leverage issue of demand as a part of procurement policy to make Microsoft more responsive and generate more competitors," Nader said. "The government still spends millions of dollars on software purchases from this company that is continuing raising prices, making its products incompatible with previous versions in order to force upgrades, deliberately creating interoperability problems with would-be competitors and engaging in many other anticompetitive practices.

"No business spending this much money would do so in such a passive basis and would be such a passive customer as the government has been."

Jason Miller writes for Government Computer News

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