An interesting question was posted by Francis Rose of FederalNewsRadio.com on the bad reputation of the federal contracting community in a recent article titled “Why do feds and contractors have such a bad reputation outside DC?"
The federal government, and contractors that supply goods and services to the government, do amazing, lifesaving work every day. We normally take for granted these services, like clean air, safe water, and the one of the best standards of living in the world.
So why do feds and contractors have such a bad reputation outside DC?
Well, there is no question that there is a concerted effort, driven by politics, to denigrate public service and the government itself. Regretfully, these messages are very powerful, and overshadow those messages of the important work the government, along with support contractors, currently perform.
However, the two points Mr. Rose makes are both a question and an enigma:
…Government should be more aggressive in telling its good news to people who understand it, and want to hear and repeat it…
No doubt. This is one thing that government does very poorly. Strategic communications is just something that government apparently does not seem to do well, especially as it pertains to sustaining a message, and getting stakeholder buy in.
When the MythBusters initiative launched at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) in 2011, I had always made it a point to cover this initiative, as it pertained to market research and communicating with industry, in classes that I taught to federal project managers. Many students had heard of this campaign, and the information we covered in the classes resonated well.
A few years later, it is rare that any student has even heard of the initiative.
One initiative that can hopefully turn this trend around comes again from OFPP, by way of the Anne Rung, the administrator, who launched a series of podcasts highlighting successes with some agency's prominent procurements.
The inaugural podcast featured Mark Naggar, project manager of the Department of Health and Human Services' Buyers Club. He detailed the use of the TechFAR Handbook and the Digital Services Playbook, on which his team built services using agile and iterative practices to and quickly contract and deliver the development of IT system prototypes.
It is these type of things that government should do more of, and get the message out there about success government is having.
The second point:
…Companies that sell in the government space should be more thoughtful about the stories they tell…
This one is a mystery. Many companies spend substantial resources on creating case studies, white papers, and discussing their products and services as a part of their marketing. Nonetheless, the message about their great work seems to be lost in the cacophony of failures of government, and how contractors are either at fault or guilty by association.
I could not agree more with Mr. Rose, as we need more success stories out there from both sides. They exist, so we all need to help overcome the challenges that missteps create in exacerbating an already bad public perception.