Media Says, IBM is Good for Government. Ah, Strike That….

FACT:  Federal Times, which was first to break the story, is reporting this afternoon that “IBM has been indefinitely suspended from doing business with federal agencies, according to a General Services Administration Web site.”

ANALYSIS: People accuse me of being too cynical.

I admit, I am something of the opposite of the great line from This is Spinal Tap, when the David St. Hubbins character says, in the random interview clips at the end of the movie, “I believe virtually everything I read, … and I think that is what makes me more of a selective human, than someone who doesn’t believe anything.”

I do have trouble believing things I hear and read from most mainstream sources at first blush. 

First, this morning I read in the Washington Post a story (with accompanying sidebar) about the great job IBM is doing in its work with government.  According to the story, IBM is busy providing “political appointees and federal executives with the latest thinking on issues and practical advice on how to deal with them.” 

IBM has its Center for the Business of Governmentsponsoring research and conferences, and providing the company’s best thinking on best practices for the public sector.  “The IBM Center offers up to $20,000 in stipends to experts who write the reports.”  This is the kind of story that you read and say to yourself, “They reprinted a company’s press release again.”  PR firms work their magic to get that kind of softball coverage, particularly in the business press, where large companies are typically the targets of hard-edged stories about corporate malfeasance.

But then came stories like the ones that are now popping up in my Live Search News RSS feed, with titles like “Gov’t Temporarily Bans IBM From Deals” (AP), or “IBM Suspended from New Federal Contracts” (GovernmentExecutive.com).  The stories are all pegged to the startling news reported late this afternoon, after stock-market trading closed (IBM was up today), of IBM’s inclusion on the dreaded GSA “Excluded Parties List.” 

Yes, my cynical eyes this morning had me wondering why IBM was trying so hard to show the great job it is doing in supporting the government.  The Washington Post article’s only apparent hook was the release today of a list of “top ten” tasks for public managers, and also the “upcoming this summer” tenth anniversary of IBM’s Center.

Don’t get me wrong: I like IBM, it’s a solid company with great technologies and great people. I’ve written before about my admiration for their research, labs, and focus on innovation. 

All of which makes the GSA action even more startling.  I’ll be interested in learning more about the events behind the sanction.


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