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Contractors Bidding Davis a Fond Farewell

By Kim Hart
Monday, November 10, 2008; D02

For government contractors, the election means saying goodbye to a longtime advocate.

After 14 years representing Virginia's 11th Congressional District, which includes Fairfax County's bastion of federal contractors, Republican Rep. Tom Davis is retiring. His departure leaves a void for many executives who have relied on Davis to look out for their companies' interests.

"He understood the industry, but at the same time, he was a moderate politician and a steady influence," said William C. Hoover, chief executive of American Systems.

Hoover met Davis in 1980 at a company that has become part of Northrop Grumman. "He put a very positive face on the industry . . . and let people know that folks in the private sector weren't going to run away when the going got tough."

Davis, a lawyer, was elected in 1994, as the government was starting to rely more heavily on contractors. With leadership roles in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he was known among local executives for going to bat for contractors and holding them to high standards.

"There are some bad apples, so he chastised those who weren't doing the right things, but he rewarded with his support those of us who actually made a contribution to the government," said Paul V. Lombardi, former Dyncorp chief executive.

Although contractors express admiration for Davis, he has been criticized by government advocates as being too chummy with the industry and not administering meaningful oversight of procurement.

Davis's successor, Democrat Gerald E. Connolly, is also an industry insider. He has served as chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for the past five years and currently works part time as vice president of community relations for contracting firm SAIC.

"He's got some big shoes to fill," said Bob Dinkel, president of Fed Results in Herndon.

Donna G. Morea, chairwoman of the Northern Virginia Technology Council and president of CGI, said she hopes Connolly will follow Davis's lead in forging relationships with fellow Virginia Reps. Frank R. Wolf (R) and James P. Moran Jr. (D), who also play integral roles in representing the contracting community on Capitol Hill.

Connolly started his government contracting career as the head of SRA International's Washington office before moving to SAIC six years ago. He said federal IT contracting is the economic engine of his new district.

"That's our industry, those are our jobs," he said.

There has been some speculation that the next administration may try to rein in federal contracting, he said. "If there are abuses, they need to be addressed. But we need to take care here -- contractors provide a vital service to the country and touches every agency."

Blue State Digital Wins, Too

For one District-based company, the election is serving as a pretty powerful launching pad.

Blue State Digital designed President-elect Barack Obama's online fundraising effort and helped organize the campaign's Web-savvy supporters. The firm rose to prominence in 2003 and 2004 by catapulting Howard Dean's Internet-focused presidential campaign into the spotlight. Last week it launched Obama's transition Web site, Change.gov.

It is now branching out, with clients including Hollywood studios, the Sundance Film Festival, university alumni groups and nonprofits such as the Red Cross.

Managing partner Thomas Gensemer said Obama's victory proves that virtual organizations can translate to real-life action. And that's good for business.

"It's vindication that this stuff is real and made a difference," he said. "This grass-roots army of people were responsible."

The firm is still steering clear of conservative politics, though Gensemer said there's been plenty of interest.

"Would that mean creating a Red State Digital? No, we're going to stick to our progressive values," he said.

It presents a branding challenge in London, where Blue State Digital is opening an office this week to tackle projects in Europe: Britain's liberal party carries a red flag, not a blue one.

He Knew Obama Back When

Obama's top technology adviser, Julius Genachowski, told local technology figures at an Oct. 28 luncheon about how he met the president-to-be at Harvard Law School.

"We were two guys with funny names, and our backgrounds, while different, shared some important features that brought us together," he said. "My parents were immigrants, and we have our share of Holocaust stories. So we shared an appreciation that people with backgrounds like his and mine could end up at a place like Harvard, where we never expected to be."

Genachowski, who runs District-based Rock Creek Ventures and co-founded local technology group LaunchBox Digital, is a key member of Obama's transition team and is rumored to be a top contender for a Cabinet-level chief technology officer position.

Speaking with Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and the state's secretary of technology, Aneesh Chopra, Genachowski said an Obama administration could take some cues from the way Virginia has used technology to track agency budgets and manage projects.

Kim Hart writes about the region's technology scene every other Monday.

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