As an engineer in the DC area, I inevitably have to do some engineering-related work with and for the government. I have been on both sides of the fence (both as a Federal employee "calling the shots," as it were, and as a contractor, trying to meet the requirements and expectations of a Fed), and I've seen some troubling trends in the way so much business is done. Or isn't done, in some cases.
I think it fundamentally comes down to the fact that the government doesn't have to show a profit at the end of the quarter. Or year. Or ever. So the government is the one organization uniquely suited to be completely oblivious to the effects of change on a process.
The commercial world, however, needs to show a profit every so often. And therein lies the difference.
What a pain.
So I get a little concerned when reading reports about program that overrun their budgets. Or things not progressing according to schedule. It's easy for the government to tell its side of the story loud and clear ... the contractor is not going to bite the hand that's feeding it and point out the endless lists of scope creep, changing requirements (or sometimes flat-out wrong requirements), and unrealistic expectations on the part of the government.
Many government organizations endlessly add scope and tasks to a given project. Seriously, the movie "Pentagon Wars" is not an exaggeration for many government institutions. Many contractors, trying desperately to appease the monster that is the US government, acquiesce, and try very hard to incorporate those changes. Hey, we're trying to give the best value to the government, right?
"Contractor does good job for Dept of Defense" doesn't get news headlines. "Contractor charges $600 for a toilet seat" does.
But I applaud Defense Secretary Gates's efforts to enforce some discipline, and sometimes making difficult decisions, if for no other reason than making an example of what not to do. It's a little heavy-handed -- the people I believe who are really at fault for causing these messes aren't getting the appropriate "attention" -- but hopefully there will be a trickle-down effect.
Here's my point: Secretary Gates just recently removed Marine Major General David Heinz from leading the F-35 development program. At $300 billion dollars, this is the military's Largest. Weapons Procurement. Ever. I have the utmost respect for Marines, and usually generals to boot, but a brief review of his biography shows that he has program management and acquisition experience off and on since 2002. While he has a stellar flight record (a test pilot and astronaut candidate, for crying out loud!), I'm not sure he's the most qualified person to try and lead the Pentagon's largest defense acquisition program.
President Obama made big waves by signing and Executive Order saying that lobbyists could not serve in his Administration, in an attempt to shut the revolving door. On one hand, that sounds encouraging -- no more graft and a lot less pork. On the other hand, you're shutting out a lot of the people who are best qualified to run the large programs that the government likes to run.
In a big storm, who better to have at the helm than an experienced skipper?