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To Be a Great Government Contractor, Think Like a Taxpayer

Earlier this week, my 13-year-old twins were arguing over who was technically responsible for emptying the dishwasher. One referenced their strict chore-sharing schedule, while the other pointed out a few “technicalities” in that contract. When I asked them the question, “What is the right thing to do here?,” they both realized they held some responsibility. For those of us working with the government, we need to constantly ask ourselves, “Are we doing the right thing by the government and for taxpayers?”

Regardless of our contractual responsibilities, if we focus on the objective and hold ourselves accountable to the overall success of these programs we support, we can avoid the confusion, failure and subsequent finger pointing that surrounds healthcare.gov. For those of us who do business with the government, we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and our role as “contractors.” We need to see beyond our “contract” and to the intent of our role as supporting the government and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars.

So, thinking as a taxpayer would, how do we stop this from happening in the future? We have to look beyond the technology and look at the process of management and the federal procurement process for contract awards.

As Acquia’s senior director for Public Sector Professional Services, here are a few principles I live by:

1. Always think like a taxpayer: Most of us working on these projects are taxpayers ourselves. When we lose connection to the end user and are only focusing on a line of code, we aren’t doing our fellow citizens justice. If you are considering taking on a project or implementing an approach that you wouldn’t want to pay for, think twice before doing it. Instead, find a way to collaborate with people on your contract and off to ensure the best possible use of taxpayer dollars is followed.

2. Don’t be a yes man (or woman): When my team is brought in on a complex job, part of that job is addressing the conflict that comes when bearing bad news. Avoiding an issue or shirking the responsibility to another party will not make the issue go away. If you see a problem, address it, even -- especially! -- if it’s not what anybody wants to hear.

3. Always be accountable for doing what’s right, regardless of a CLIN: If our contract doesn’t have a contract line item number (CLIN) for ensuring two systems work together, but we know the success of the initiative requires that be the case, as contractors we have an ethical responsibility to discuss how those connection points will be addressed.

4. Manage to your contract, but don’t hide behind it: Companies that are expert in only winning and managing contract terms, not implementing the best technological solutions for the public sector, can result in waste, rework, and failed projects costing well into the millions per project. This is also true for companies that don’t understand government regulations.

5. Consider the entire opportunity, and risk, not just the revenue: In the past month alone, my team has walked away from three large opportunities because the approach, involved parties, or contract terms would mean failure. While we may be walking away from a big contract award now, we are also doing our part to tell the government that the approach needs to be rethought. And we continue to make ourselves available for those discussions.

By following these principles, we can think like taxpayers, and deliver the maximum value to the public as good corporate citizens.

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