July 01, 2020 Procurement Lawyer

Message from the Chair

by Linda Maramba

What a year! As I draft this final Chair’s column looking back on the last 12 months of the Section’s 2019 – 2020 ABA year, so many thoughts come to mind.

Above all, it has certainly been a year of “first time ever” events, both planned and utterly unexpected. The ABA year began on a high note. The Section convened its newly named and developed Public Procurement Symposium on October 24 – 25, 2019 in San Diego, California. The Symposium presented dual-tracked federal, state, and local public procurement programs, bringing together over 100 procurement professionals from throughout the United States and Canada, including many attendees who were new to the Section. The Symposium luncheon speaker, Richard Powers, Deputy Assistant Attorney General of the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division, addressed the heightened focus on collusion in public procurement, information placing our Section members ahead of the curve for the Justice Department’s announcement of its formation of a Procurement Collusion Strike Force shortly thereafter.

Symposium attendees also enjoyed new networking opportunities, a team-building reception and tour of the baseball stadium at Petco Park, and the Section reception. Held on an outdoor plaza on a picture-perfect Southern California evening, the Section reception included spotlighting the attendees who topped the Symposium’s networking challenges and cheering on the Nationals as we viewed the World Series from wide-screen monitors specially installed to meet the essential baseball needs of our Washington D.C. attendees. Many thanks go to the Symposium Director, Judge Jeri Somers, and to Co-Chairs Erin Felix, Mark Rowland, and Kristin Linsley, for the vision and hard work that made the Symposium so memorable.

Additionally, the Section rolled out its Thought Leaders Groups, a new initiative bringing Section members together in small groups to meet periodically to discuss public procurement and other topics of shared interest. The Section formed 25 regional groups varying in size from six to nine members, many of which will continue through the 2020 – 2021 year. Special thanks go to Danny Cook, Stu Nibley, and Amy Hoang for their enthusiasm in undertaking this new endeavor and their skillful shaping and launch of the Thought Leaders Groups.

Then came 2020 and the Section’s annual Federal Procurement Institute scheduled for March 11 – 14, 2020, in Annapolis, Maryland. The FPI Director, Judge Reid Prouty, and Co-Chairs Rich Clifford, Linda Santiago, Andy Shipley, and Dawn Stern devoted many months to thoughtfully planning FPI — no small task, as FPI long has been recognized as the flagship program for the Section, combining the best coverage of federal contracting developments with many cherished Section traditions. As a result, top-notch programs with a bevy of prominent procurement experts were lined up, along with the Honorable Ellen Lord, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, as the FPI luncheon speaker, and the multiple special events and receptions for which FPI also is known. For the first time ever, FPI registrations filled early and the Section initiated a registration wait list.

And then, sadly, we had another first, but of a different sort. With the global coronavirus pandemic rapidly unfolding, the Section cancelled FPI. While disappointing for many, the decision not to proceed was necessary, as the safety and well-being of our Section members and ABA staff is our top priority. As the nation focused on the unsettling news reports, adjusted to significant changes to professional and personal lives, and dealt with tragic losses, the Section also adapted. Our Committees resumed their meetings, but virtually only. And thanks to the fortitude and immense efforts led by our Section Director, Patty Brennan, the Section presented four of the FPI programs as webinars in a new “Virtual FPI 2020” in May, which drew many participants, including new potential Section members.

Rolling with the move to virtual meetings, the Section convened its first ever Virtual Midyear Council Meeting in May, addressing its business matters, and plans for the Annual Meeting and Fall meeting. Special thanks go to Executive Mentee Erica Bakies for coordinating this first-ever Virtual Midyear Council meeting and facilitating its progress from start to finish.

Finally, in the closing months of the ABA year, the attention of the nation turned to another important topic — Black Lives Matter. Our Section has proudly noted its focus on diversity, but we can and should do more. The Diversity Committee answered the call to do more and circulated curated reading resources, convened a roundtable discussion, and committed to identifying some specific next steps to make meaningful changes. Thanks go to the Diversity Committee and, in particular, Co-Chair Jayna Rust, for dedication to helping the Section move forward with the essential work we all must do here.

So yes, it’s been quite a year, with a number of the Section’s “firsts” arising from circumstances that no one expected. The Section rose to the occasion. Its ability to do so — and to continue to thrive — directly comes from our dedicated members who so generously contribute their time and talent, together with our stalwart Section sponsors. I also must mention the former Section Chairs who offered their insights and encouragement to me throughout the year. I am not only grateful for their wise words but also humbled and inspired by how they embody the Section’s strong, collaborative spirit.

Our Public Contract Law Section is a community of professionals like no other. It was truly a privilege for me to serve the Section as Chair this past year. I hope that you are looking forward, as I am, to the many good things sure to come — no matter what may lie ahead — as we move into the new ABA year with Susan Ebner as Section Chair.