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FCW : July 15, 2014
STEVE KELMAN is professor of public management at Harvard University s Kennedy School of Government and former administrator of the Of ce of Federal Procurement Policy. Commentary | STEVE KELMAN A story in the New York Times business section recently got around to informing non-Washing- tonians like me that the Old Post Of ce Building on Pennsylvania Avenue is passing into the control of Donald Trump. The real estate mogul plans to build a luxury hotel on the property, which he says will be ready in time for the Inaugural Parade in 2017. My initial reaction as an outsider who adores the Old Post Of ce Building was joy about what was going to happen to it. Its recent mixed use, with restaurants and federal of ces, has not worked, largely because government secu- rity checks make it unappealing to the general public. But I also contemplated what the deal says about American gov- ernment and society. And most of it re ects well on our country. The rst thing I thought about was the fact that the government had given the contract to Trump. (Eighty rms had shown interest, and 10 submitted bids to the Gen- eral Services Administration.) He is the same Donald Trump who tried to run against Barack Obama for president and was the highest- pro le gure associated with the suggestion that Obama had not been born in the United States. Yet the fact that Trump won a high-visibility government contract to develop an iconic building in the middle of Washington passed without notice. In many countries, it would be unthinkable for a prominent opponent of the government to win such a contract --- or any govern- ment contract, for that matter. And this feature of our government is not only great from the perspective of public ethics but also in terms of our country s long-term economic growth and prosperity. The best- selling book "Why Nations Fail," by MIT economist Daren Acemoglu and Harvard University political scientist James Robinson, argues that the ability to do well without having political connections is a crucial determinant of whether individuals will succeed through innovation and entrepreneurship rather than by obtaining govern- ment favors. The second notable feature was that GSA innovated to nd a new future for the Old Post Of ce Building. Dan Tangherlini, GSA s dynamic leader, is quoted in the Times as saying, "It s a beautiful, historic, iconic building, right on America s Main Street. But the truth is it s not useful as an of ce building in the 21st century. It was best to nd a private-sector partner to redevelop and put it to better economic use." GSA has long been in the busi- ness of managing government- owned building stock for govern- ment use, so it s not easy to think outside the box to nd a complete- ly different approach to using this asset. A third thing that caught my eye was Trump s con dent statement that the building would be ready for guests in time for the 2017 inau- guration. Here my observation was less attering to the government. Almost 20 years ago, New York City handed over renovation of an iconic skating rink in Central Park to Trump after delays in the city s procurement process. It was noted at the time that Trump had a powerful weapon to keep the contractors he hired on schedule: the threat to cut them off from other business his empire did with them. Today the federal procurement process works better than it did in the past, and it is conceivable that a government-managed procure- ment effort could meet the 2017 deadline. But I wouldn t bet on it. The government needs to learn that it, too, is a big customer, and it should use its clout more aggres- sively to get contractors to perform well. ■ 3 cheers for GSA, Trump and the Old Post Of ce Or perhaps 2 1/2 --- but GSA's recent deal with Donald Trump to turn an iconic federal building into a luxury hotel reveals some interesting insight into procurement and politics The government should take a lesson from Donald Trump and use its clout more aggressively to get contractors to perform well. 12 July 15, 2014 FCW.COM
June 15, 2014
July 30, 2014