WT Business Beat

By Nick Wakeman

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All eyes on you

Few topics are raising as much talk in the contracting community as Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Calif.) increased scrutiny of government contractors.

Washington Technology Staff Writer Alice Lipowicz has been tracking the issue closely and last week hosted an online forum that proved to be one of our most attended.

Originally scheduled for an hour, the session stretched into two as Lipowicz fielded 49 questions and comments with a variety of viewpoints. Some were wholeheartedly behind Waxman, while others think he is on the wrong track.

But were we, as a publication, making too big a deal of Waxman? One person wrote during the forum: "Why are you whipping up anxiety about oversight? There's been little for six years. This is a return to normal. Further, the government always -- in GAO reports, in hearings -- takes 90 percent of the heat in these matters, deservedly. And no one can point to a solid blow on industry--some embarrassment, maybe, but no lost business, no contract terminations."

I don't believe we're whipping up anxiety, but I do believe the commenter has a point. Scrutiny should be part of the process and can be healthy. More daylight on how contracts work can only be good for taxpayers and the competitive environment. Companies and their agency customers need to be ready to defend themselves and explain why things operate a certain way, particularly if they fail.

But Waxman's rhetoric also needs to be toned down. Contractors aren't crooks and agency procurement and contract officers are not idiots. Just because something fails doesn't mean a criminal act has taken place.

So keep looking for headlines with Waxman's name; his campaign is only just beginning. And to make sure you have a feel for the pulse of the contracting community, read Lipowicz's forum.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Mar 12, 2007 at 9:54 AM

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