Government Must Leverage Private Sector's Expertise


Anthony Principi, the former Secretary of Veterans Affairs under President George W. Bush, issued a call to action to technology solution providers: Stepped-up public-private partnerships are needed for government IT to succeed in the 21st century.

"Government can and must improve the cost, productivity, speed and quality of the services it provides," Principi told an audience of several hundred at UBM Channel's XChange Public Sector conference, held earlier this month in Charlotte, N.C. "And the only way that can happen is through partnerships. Public-private partnerships; local, state and federal alliances; and alliances with small businesses and multinational companies are all in the mix.”

Principi, co-chair of presidential candidate Mitt Romney's Veterans Policy Advisory Group, said the need for innovative public-private partnerships comes as federal managers are confronting "an expanding customer base, growing fiscal and budgetary pressures, shifting demographics and the most rapid evolution of technology and technological processes in the whole course of human history."

The current environment demands federal officials "draw upon the skills and expertise of the private sector to assist them in solving problems," he said.

Principi’s address to the conference was coordinated in part by longtime friend John Convery, a member of the XChange Public Sector Advisory Board and executive vice president of vendor relations at Denali Advanced Integration, a $200 million solution provider based in Redmond, Wash. Principi's daughter, Diane Radocha, also works for Denali Advanced Integration.

Principi's call for public-private partnerships is just what is needed to drive legacy systems to the cloud in the government sector, according to Convery.

"Principi is a strong leader who is passionate about the collaboration between the public and private sector, passionate about innovation and excellence in public sector, " said Convery. "His experience as a champion of public and private partnerships is deep-rooted as a cabinet member for the Veterans Affairs Department, a former board member for Perot Systems, now Dell, and former senior vice president at Lockheed Martin."

Principi, for his part, touched on just that need in his XChange Public Sector address.

"Whatever you may think of the federal government's role in managing our nation -- whether it should do more or should do less -- the fact remains that whatever it does must be done more efficiently. And contractors are the way to make that happen," he said. "As we meet today, many federal agencies are asking contractors to help them overhaul their legacy IT systems, whose maintenance costs are a continuing drain on taxpayers.

"There's a great deal of room for new contractors to help out in this effort, and to create jobs and profits for themselves and their shareholders," he added.

Principi said he got some sound advice from President Bush that is rarely followed in matters of government.

At the meeting in which he accepted the Secretary of Veterans Affairs appointment, Principi recalled that Bush told him he should spend every dollar like it was his own. "It is not how much money you spend," Principi said Bush advised him. "It is how you spend the money to better the lives of people you are going to serve. Every dollar you spend is a dollar some American has to take out of their pocket and give to you."

That advice, said Principi, stuck with him as he directed the Veterans Affairs Administration, with a budget of more than $125 billion. During his 2001 to 2005 tenure, Principi reformed the procurement process to enable more cost-effective purchasing decisions. He also transformed a limited in-patient hospital model to an outpatient model with more than 1,300 care sites.

Principi, a Naval Academy graduate who commanded a River Patrol Unit in Vietnam, also talked about serving as an ensign aboard the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, taking command of the ship during the early morning hours. The commander of the destroyer, clad in pajamas, would often check on Principi to make sure all was well.

"If I ran the ship aground or injured one sailor, he [the commander of the destroyer] would be walking the plank," said Principi. "He was the captain and had responsibility. That is why in the United States Navy not many ships run aground."

Principi said that kind of accountability is missing from government today. "That needs to change if America is going to succeed in the 21st century," he said.

"Abraham Lincoln once said, 'The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy present,' " Prinicipi said during his address. "We will need every bit of ingenuity and forward thinking America possesses to meet the challenges government agencies face in the IT arena today."

Principi is right. The challenges are insurmountable without public-private collaboration. Now is the time for the government and IT service providers to step up and deliver these partnerships to usher in a new era.

PUBLISHED ON JUNE 27, 2012