Should You Meet Freely with Company Representatives?
The answer is “no.” You need to be selective. At the same time, some government officials refuse to speak with vendors, whether in the office or in public forums. This is wrong and shortsighted. The vendor community deserves to hear your insights and plans. At the same time, you will get new information at each meeting.
Relationships with vendors can be valuable, as long as you navigate the ethical concerns correctly. Your insights need to be available to all vendors, not just a favored few. You are on thin ice if you meet with senior officials from one company and not others just before your agency is set to release a procurement solicitation for a few hundred million dollars. Meeting with officials representing only one company creates the perception that you are manipulating the procurement process.
If you do agree to a small meeting with one company, be sure to offer similar opportunities to other companies interested in bidding on your requirements. Also, do not meet with company officials by yourself. Bring along a member of the general counsel’s office, the ethics office, or the procurement policy office to silently monitor the conversation, stop you if the discussion is taking a perilous path and serve as a witness for you later if necessary.
Follow five simple guidelines, and you will have productive relationships with the companies selling to the government.
If you agree to small meetings with a single vendor, be sure to offer the same opportunity to other vendors.
Decline invitations to speak at off-the-record sessions. As valuable as they might be, it is human nature for vendors seeking an edge to reveal their “scoop.”
Consult with the ethics officials and legal resources in your agency to guide you and keep you out of trouble.
Above all, treat all companies the same.
Recognize that when you leave the job, your “friends” in industry will reach out to your successor and less and less to you over time.
Understanding and working through the many challenges in high-level government jobs.