Tom Temin | Editor's Desk: Good help deterred

Thomas R. Temin, Editor in chief

For every technology company that participates in the federal market, there are probably 12 that wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole.

Those who master the ins and outs of the federal market find their efforts rewarded with profitable business. Successful contractors can command premium prices in the merger and acquisition markets.

But federal contracting in some respects resembles Hollywood. There are the true power moguls, the famous talents, and the 'glue people' in matchmaking and publicity, all making a living. And there are the wannabes and those simply bewildered by what should be straightforward processes.

The latter group might make a run at a federal contract and get discouraged, never returning again. Or they are so put off by what they perceive as arcane federal rules, that they avoid the government altogether. Either way, competition suffers.

A small procurement of security software by the Energy Department illustrates why some companies stay away. Until GCN's Patience Wait researched and reported it, this deal was just another back-stage discussion.

Basically, Energy conducted a rigorous competition, only to have a prime contractor, RS Information Services, turn the deal into a subcontract. What was curious: The winner, with a technically inferior offer, came in at more than twice the price of one other bidder. Energy's justification was that only the winning vendor, Citadel Security Software, had a product certified under Common Criteria Level 3. Certification was pending for the other bidders' products.

If Citadel was the only vendor who could meet the Common Criteria mandate, then why stage an elaborate opera of a competition, when a justifiable sole-source award might have saved a lot of time and effort?

Maybe it's because a lot of pressure is coming from the Office of Management and Budget to increase competition and conduct strategic sourcing. But if the solution is a bizarre ritual, then don't expect every otherwise qualified vendor to join the show.

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