Two steps backward

Thomas R. Temin

Discretion and creativity in federal contracting are hard-won privileges threatened by recent fiascoes. EDS Corp. reported its results for 2004's first quarter'and its U.S. government sector lost $57 million because of the Navy-Marine Corps Intranet project. Otherwise, EDS would have eked out a profit.

Meanwhile, the sordid details of the Darleen Druyun affair came out in the daily papers. Druyun is the former Air Force acquisition official who negotiated a controversial $23 billion contract with Boeing Co. to lease tankers. During the final negotiations, she was secretly working out the terms for a job at Boeing. Now she faces a possible prison term.

Both NMCI and the tanker deal were risky. NMCI users have expressed widespread frustration, and EDS failed to recognize the magnitude of the legacy systems it would have to convert to the Navywide network.

A sound concept nevertheless, NMCI will likely succeed if only through sheer Navy determination. But the travails of EDS will scare many agencies and contractors off seat management.

The Air Force didn't have the money to buy new tankers outright. So officials decided, or were persuaded, to lease up to 100 of them. As details of the deal began to come out, they sparked opposition.

The tanker leases, if ever consummated, may be a wonderful bargain'or a massively expensive boondoggle. But objective answers will be clouded by the perfidy of government and corporate officials. In that sense, the Druyun-Boeing affair is the more damaging; the mistakes involving NMCI don't include malfeasance.

Just a little more than a decade after the Operation Ill Wind scandals, the government started on a fast track to real procurement reform, marked by discretion, creativity and teamwork among acquisition, program and technology officials.

After all this progress, it would be wrong for the NMCI and tanker leasing setbacks to reverse that trend.

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