At GoodbyeJim.com, a site that closely monitors the member of Congress from my district–Rep. James Moran of Virginia’s 8th district–Jonathan Marks has an interesting post about a small government contractor called MobilVox. In the 2004 election cycle, the firm’s employees made modest campaign contributions to a trio of lawmakers–Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, Rep. John Murtha, and Moran. In fiscal year 2005, according to FedSpending.org, the Navy awarded MobilVox a contract worth $507,092. Marks wonders whether it’s worth looking at MobilVox more closely.
Now, I’m not really interested in MobilVox per se. Murtha described the company in a press release as a “fast-growing small business contractor” that “applies cutting-edge mobile technologies to offer high-end engineering, technical business consulting and integration services for enterprises voice and wireless data solutions for the government and commercial sectors;” let’s take it for granted that they’ve got all the potential and all the challenges that any small business in the high tech sector faces.
What interests me is not so much the private sector, but its intersection with the public sector. I’m referring to the often tediously arcane subject of federal procurement, which might better be described as how the government (defined here as both Congress and the executive branch) go shopping. Or, if you’re a small firm like MobilVox and you’re trying to sell something for the first time to the federal government, how do you go about it?
I couldn’t help noticing, for example, from 2003 to 2005, MobilVox was represented in Washington by KSA Consulting; on its most recently filed lobbying disclosure form, the firm includes Carmen Scialabba, a former Murtha staffer who figured in this Washington Post story, and Robert Murtha, the brother of Rep. Murtha, on the list of lobbyists who contacted the House to discuss “defense appropriations” on behalf of MobilVox.
In the first half of 2006, another firm–the PMA Group–reported receiving $60,000 from MobilVox to lobby the House, Senate and the Defense Department on Defense appropriations. PMA listed Melissa Koloszar, former chief of staff to Rep. Jim Moran, as one of its lobbyists working on behalf of MobilVox.
In the first half of 2006, yet another firm–this time Pittsburgh-based GSP Consulting–reported receiving $20,000 from MobilVox to lobby the House and Senate on FY07 Budget appropriations. GSP listed Scott Harshman, whose company bio says he worked for Rep. Murtha from 1994 to 2003, as one of its lobbyists working on behalf of MobilVox.
Until the relationship was terminated on May 15, 2005, Charters and Company LLC lobbied the House and Senate on MobilVox’s behalf on Defense appropriations. Timothy T. Charters, who served as an aide to Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, was the lobbyist who approached the Hill; for the last five-and-a-half months of work, the firm disclosed receiving $20,000 from MobilVox.
Now, MobilVox is hardly the only company to hire a bevy of well-connected Washington lobbyists. Compared to, say, a big contractor like Lockheed Martin, their lobbying expenses are negligible. But what does it say about the efficacy of our procurement system that a fast-growing small business contractor that employs cutting edge technologies ends up spending, at a minimum, some $160,000 since 2003 on Washington lobbyists while seeking contracts from the federal government? Couldn’t that money be better used on R&D, or a better dental plan or higher wages for employees?
And is there any indication that Congress regards this state of affairs as a problem?