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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Contractors and patriotism

For a story that comes out Jan. 12, I had the opportunity to interview Dennis Stolkey, senior vice president, U.S. public sector for EDS.

The story will be about challenges and opportunities for government contractors in 2009. While Stolkey contributed greatly to the piece and my understanding of what contractors face in the coming year, two days before Christmas I'm thinking more about the end of our conversation.

Before taking over as head of EDS government, Stolkey had spent nearly 40 years working in the commercial IT world, working with the banking, communications and auto industries. As the interview wrapped up, Stolkey talked about patriotism and how his thinking about government has changed since taking over as the leader of EDS government in August 2007.

The comments don't really fit with my story, but I think they are worth sharing, particularly at this time of year.

"I didn’t give a lot of thought to the government, but when I got here I realized the warfighters are in our hands," he said.

If a system fails, lives are at risk. If a hacker cracks a system and steals information on troop positions or movements, people can die.

That realization has had an impact on the way he approaches his job, Stolkey said.

"When you start thinking about terrorist threats and how government works, it drives a lot more thoughtfulness in your decisions," he said.

Contractors are patriots "because you have to be at the ready, you cannot walk off the job," he said.

I don't think anyone in the government IT industry would disagree, and I've heard other executives over the years express similar thoughts about the role of contractors.

Too often the good work done by contractors is lost in the headlines or buried too deeply in GAO reports. Sometimes the criticism is warranted; sometimes not.

Contractors will continue to play an important and vital role in how our government accomplishes its mission, and I know that most take seriously the responsibilities that comes with that role.

Stolkey said he wasn't trying to be corny by calling contractors patriotic. I don't think he was, but I do think he was truthful.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Dec 23, 2008 at 9:54 AM

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