“If it’s not illegal, immoral, or unethical, I’ve got your back.”
Tony Smeraglinolo, president and CEO of government services contractor Engility Corp., regularly repeats that message when addressing some of the contractor’s more than 7,000 employees that are spread out across the entire U.S. and much of the world.
David Robbins, formerly assistant deputy general counsel with responsibility for contractors at the Department of the Air Force, highlighted that line as he considered Engility as part of his Feb. 20 article for Law360 that explored ethical issues surrounding the GovCon community.
The GovCon community has found itself in the position of needing to ensure that a “low price, technically acceptable” contracting environment does not yield a lowering of ethical standards, Robbins says.
Robbins, who now chairs the government contracts practice at Potomac, Md.-based law firm Shulman Rogers, stressed that as it requires hard and dedicated work and effort to build a successful relationship when developing contracts, sharing a common ethical foundation actually has significant advantages.
He also added that despite some popular preconceptions, that the result of the effort is not a simple transfer of great profits to the private sector.
“It is far from a universal truth that there is such thing as ‘lucrative government contract,’ he said.
“The inevitable hard conversations that happen in government contract formation, administration and enforcement are so much easier when you know going in you can have an ‘adult conversation’ from a basis of mutual trust and respect.”
During his time at the Air Force, Robbins met with Engility leaders to discuss an administrative agreement the company was subject to, although it was not involved with the conduct that resulted in the meeting. Companies under such agreements can be subject to probation.
Robbins met with Engility executives to review issues the company had inherited from multiple legacy companies, and found that the company had addressed the issues. He then unexpectedly found himself invited to hold a live ethics session for Engiliy’s board of directors at the request of Engility management; a ‘first’ in his career.
“Generally businesses that are being acquired or divested fight to get out from under such provisions,” Robbins said. “These are, predictably, less than pleasant encounters destined for one conclusion: Live with it.”
“It was easy to trust the representations that the current company had nothing to do with the misconduct but had taken steps to ensure similar problems would not arise again,” Robbins later added.
Engility, Robbins said, made it very clear that as the success of the business hinges on its ability to successfully partner with the government every day, that its ethics policies form an integral part of their business.
“We believe corporate ethics is a differentiator for Engility,” Smeraglinolo told Robbins.