In Washington you don’t have to invent something to get rich.

In Washington, D.C., all it takes to win a government contract is to “understand how the bureaucracy works, or to hire someone who does,” according to an article in today’s Washington Post. Who do you hire? For 99 of the top 100 federal contractors, it’s Deltek, Inc. Deltek, which was founded 30 years ago in Fairfax, VA, is a “capture consultancy,” which helps companies capture government contracts. The $517-billion government contract industry’s rules are so complex and difficult to navigate, they are virtually impossible for small businesses to understand without Deltek’s help. As the CEO is quoted in the article, “You can probably survive, but I don’t think you can thrive without us.”

There are two glaring problems highlighted by this article. First, there’s something wrong with a government contracting system that is so arcane that it requires a middleman to navigate through the complications. It is a wholly unnecessary inefficiency that needs to be reformed. Second, it suggests that the government is so cozy with the status quo that reform will be quite difficult to achieve. Indeed, the article makes it seem that government auditors push contractors to use Deltek even if they are legally prohibited from doing so (“‘[e]verybody around here is kind of using Deltek,’ wink-wink, nod-nod”).

However, there is some hope: some inside government recognize the need for reform. Brett B. Lambert, “a top Pentagon official who oversaw private contracting said Deltek is a part of a system in need of reform.” “We make it difficult to do business with us; we need to open the process up,” he said. He also said the federal government “should adopt the accounting practices used in private business whenever possible. That would inject more competition into the system by making it easier for more ‘innovative and nontraditional’ companies to seek government contracts.”

“Deltek is there because we created the need for it,” Lambert said. “Nobody ever steps back and says, ‘Is this really necessary?’” Maybe with the debacle, we finally will.

Read the article here.