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FCW : May 15, 2015
32 May 15, 2015 FCW.COM AcquisitionMatters versations and exchanges of information between govern- ment and industry. Ever since, the drumbeat encouraging improved communications has continued by top leaders across government. But well-founded fear cannot be overcome by well-mean- ing efforts. Risk aversion is learned behavior, and therefore, suspicion and paranoia continue to dominate stilted conver- sations. And now the lack of communication is effectively preventing the development of good solutions, hampering competition and breeding poor decision-making. And so, despite the demand to overcome risk aversion, foster collaboration, improve efficiency and decrease costs, the fear factor reigns. Maybe more disturbing, though, is the McCarthy-era hush that has fallen over those in government and industry who are unwilling to publicly speak out about their concerns for fear of attracting unwanted attention and consequences. Off the record, sources in both communities report wide- spread feelings of powerlessness. As one government pro- curement official told me, “No one oversees the IGs, so we have no place to turn.” A former DOD official privately shared that he believes “we have reached the point that what were previously recog- nized as common, even routine, administrative and business decisions and debates are now being elevated to suspicion or even accusation of criminal wrongdoing and behavior.” The official went on to suggest that “professionalism is being ceded to political and prosecutorial convenience, [which] in turn is resulting in a beaten-down workforce that sticks to rigid transactions rather than strategic thinking.” Thankfully, media discourse is beginning to openly raise questions about the issues with the current IG structure and processes. For example, in a recent highly publicized case, two IGs were at odds over an employee who once worked at the Department of Veterans Affairs and now works at the Treasury Department. A VA IG report concluded that the procurement official is guilty of misconduct. The Treasury IG said she’s not. Interestingly, the individual in question had testified against the VA colleague who brought the case to the IG for creating a hostile work environment. Payback? The Treasury IG, in a letter to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, quotes several witnesses who say the com- plainant openly sought to retaliate against the executive. And the Washington Post reports that Treasury’s IG is now accusing the VA’s IG of misconduct, saying the case “fuels growing concerns about [the VA IG’s] work.” The Post also reports that the VA’s IG is requesting an expedited review of the matter by CIGIE. Interrupting the cycle Observers in the federal community are watching the case closely in the hope that it will catch the eye of an authority that will help rebalance the scales in favor of a less punitive approach. But those hopes might be unfounded because, as is often the case, the policy and rhetoric originating from Congress are powerful drivers. And in February, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) introduced the Inspector General Empow- erment Act of 2015, described on Congress.gov as a bill that would “strengthen the independence of the inspec- tors general.” So it seems that strengthened authorities and oversight might again be the default position. Becoming the subject of an IG investigation is no small matter. Many report that when IG investigators come to your door, they assume guilt and hang around longer than your in-laws. Even if they find no wrongdoing, work is unneces- sarily stalled and managers and workers are unfairly sullied. Parties involved in those investigations say they have been condemned before anything resembling due process has occurred. Even if you emerge with no conviction, you’ve probably been pretty well bloodied and bruised. The enforcement mentality is not only casting a frost over important relationships, it’s costing a fortune. Govern- ment contractors spend an estimated 25 cents on the dollar complying with burdensome regulations and responding to a barrage of audits and investigations. And individuals faced with an IG inquiry are spending a personal fortune to gain and maintain representation for investigations that continue without a clear process or endpoint. In short, we are trapped in a cycle of fear, risk aversion, suppression and, ultimately, mission failure. It’s time to interrupt the cycle. It’s time to shed light on the impact of current oversight policies and conduct a review of practices, processes and governance over our important but intimidating IG community. It’s time for a transparent process by which the severity of a claim, level of investigation and process are deter- mined and communicated. A proper vetting system would prevent lower-level complaints from improperly escalating and would be met with a collective “hurrah!” Earnestly working to establish a more just and balanced approach would allow the IG community to continue its noble quest of ensuring integrity while beginning to mend the injured federal culture so we can all focus on what is most important: mission delivery, value and service to our country. n Kymm McCabe is president and CEO of Value Storm Growth Partners. 0515fcw_030-032.indd 32 4/20/15 2:27 PM
April 30, 2015
May 30, 2015