Post's Deltek profile marks new era of contractor scrutiny

The last month has seen a marked increase in the mainstream media's coverage of government contracting, but too often, the focus of the stories have equated success with corruption. In its latest installment, the Washington Post looks at Deltek. Here's what editor Nick Wakeman thinks they got wrong.

My jaw dropped a bit this morning when I saw the Washington Post’s front page story about Deltek. It was right there next to the paper’s story on the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Given recent stories on MicroTech and CGI as well as other stories, it appears that the federal government’s hometown paper has discovered that contracting is a big business in the area.

Overall, I thought the Deltek story was good; it gave a good history of the company, but there were certain phrasings and word choices that gave me pause. With so much of this recent coverage, there seems to be a naiveté about how the real world works.

The Deltek story is part of a Washington Post special report called: The Insiders’ Game, Getting rich in the new Washington.

I think it is good to examine how the drivers of a region’s economy operate and evolve over time, but the tone of these stories comes across as disparaging to companies and executives who have become successful. The Post's point of view seems to be that it is wrong to be a successful business in the government market.

How else do you explain the end of the Deltek story, which relates how companies have been launched to provide support services to contractors implementing Deltek’s software:

“Those companies feed off Deltek like little birds riding on the back of an elephant, which stands in a vast river of government money, drinking deeply.”

That’s some pretty prose, but it's meaningless and misleading.

What's wrong with being a successful company in the government market?

Specific to the Deltek story, the Post fails to talk about how half of Deltek's revenue has nothing to do with government contracting, but comes from work with architecture and engineering firms and other project-oriented businesses outside of public sector. At least half of the Deltek success story has nothing to do with government spending.

The Post stories on contracting go on about how much money companies make providing services to the federal government, but they make it sound like these companies are stealing the money instead of providing critical goods and services to the government.

And what about what these companies contribute? In Fairfax County, which the Post says receives a “disproportionate” share of government spending, contractors create jobs and support a tax base that goes to support schools, parks and other things that contribute to a good quality of life for everyone.

According to the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, seven of the county's top 10 employers are government contractors, and they provide tens of thousands of jobs.

Wouldn’t looking at the entire economic impact help paint a more well-rounded view of what government contractors contribute?

Instead, you read the Post’s "getting rich" series, and you think these companies are sucking us all dry instead of being positive participants in the local economy.

Again, I don't understand what's wrong with being a successful business?

OK, I’ll end my media criticism there, but I want to leave you with a message: People are watching, but this isn’t all bad; there is an opportunity, as well.

I’ve felt for quite some time that contractors have done a poor job telling their story and explaining to the general public the important contributions they make to the country.

As the scrutiny from the Post and others increases, companies and executives should seize the opportunity to explain what you do when they call. Don’t just tell feel-good stories or the usual blather about being “the leading provider of X, Y, Z.”

Instead, really explain what you do; explain how you keep the system running that delivers the payroll to 10,000 government employees and their families, or how you support the network for a VA hospital that makes sure doctors and nurses have the latest health information on 500 wounded warriors they are caring for. There are tons of other examples.

Will you always get your story out? No, but being proactive and articulate will only benefit your company and the industry as a whole.

The term "government contractor" has become a dirty word, but contractors play a critical role in addressing some of the toughest problems our society faces. Are contractors perfect? No, but you should wear that moniker with pride and not be afraid to show it.