A little ribbing goes with the territory in blazing new trails
As many of you know, Dr. K has been the Fearless Leader, Lord High Pooh-Bah and
Instigator General at the National Federal Bureau of Buying Stuff Policy. He has done many
things of note during his sabbatical from his post at the Very Important President School
of Benign Despotism.
One of the notier things he did was to write the Little Blue Book of Acquisition
Blunders. The theme of the book was the ostrichlike qualities exhibited by nine people
interviewed about their acquisition screw-ups.
The book's most memorable quote, taken directly from taped recordings of the
interviews, is "Contractors never told us they hadn't an idea of what they were
doing, and I was too ashamed to ask such an obvious question."
Can such a silly statement shape a career? You bet. The doctrine of "poor prior
performance pattern" was born in the Little Blue Book. It was summed up in the
Federal Buying Stuff Book of Strongly Held Beliefs (FBSBOSHB) as "The evil that
contractors do lives after them, because you must put it in a database, but the good is
often interred with the contract close out."
Also thanks to Dr. K, we have the concept of the "neutral prior poor performance
pattern." What this means is that if the contractor has never existed, poor prior
performance patterns have not been established yet.
Dr. K's biggest achievement, however, was reducing the size of the FBSBOSHB to half its
original page numbers.
Now, some of you might think this was a mere compliance with the letter but not the
spirit of the initiative. You may remember that some of the earlier solutions would not
have been too practicable, such as cutting the pages in half lengthwise or taking out
every other word. Renumbering the pages as 1, A, 2, B, and so on, was inspired.
There are awards you get and awards you really want. It is clear that Dr. K would like
to be remembered for rewriting the 15th Part of FBSBOSHB in its original, uncut length.
But remember, rewriting only implies change, it doesn't necessarily mean change. Besides,
parts is parts.
So the legacy of Dr. K might not include the ballad of the "Rewrite of the 15th
Part." But no one knows why and, more important, no one cares.
If there is such a thing as the second biggest achievement in Dr. K's sojourn in
government, it's the reworking of the government's commodity buying methods, including
This inspired, yet evolutionary, approach to government buying has been a boon to all
But, folks, let me be serious. At the same time Dr. K is leaving, so too is Steve
Kelman stepping down from his post as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement
Some of you may have thought that the aforementioned Dr. K was intended as a parody of
Steve Kelman. Well, let's put it this way, one cannot be the target of slings, arrows and
the popular lampoon if one risks nothing.
The business of reforming government business is indeed risky.
Although I might not always have agreed with Kelman's ideas about how to improve the
acquisition process, I doff a jester's cap to a man who truly cared about making
government acquisition better and who took the necessary risks.
He is a man who inspired lots of others to help, and Kelman will ultimately receive
well-deserved credit for being the single most influential individual in the government
procurement process in the last 50 years.
Bob Little, an attorney who has worked for the General Accounting Office and a
Washington law firm, teaches federal contract law.