Procurement Lawyer

News from the Chair

by Kara Sacilotto

As I write this final News from the Chair column, it is spring time in Washington, D.C. By the time you read this note, however, summer will have arrived, and the weather will have turned to hot and humid. Spring is fleeting, as was my year as Chair of the Section, I suppose.

With spring, our eyes (hopefully) move from our computer screens to the cherry blossoms, return of bees, and the blooming of daffodils. For me, spring means a return to the garden. I have a community garden plot here in Washington, D.C. Therefore, I don’t just garden. I “farm.”

Gardening (or “farming” in a dozen or so square feet) is a great activity for lawyers. You leave the desk. You work with your hands. You free your mind. And the results are tangible. Lessons from the garden can also be applied to life and to the Section.

The first lesson: seeds will not grow without water, good soil, and sunshine. Our Section will not grow, and new members will not take root, if we do not tend to our collective Section garden. This year, I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to attend many Section events, educational programs, and meetings. I’ve been amazed at the outstanding speakers from whom we’ve heard as well as the substantive value of the presentations at Committee meetings and our educational programs. Likewise, we’ve been fortunate to publish, and receive proposals to publish, new and exciting Section books. We need to keep “fertilizing” our Committees, educational programs, and publications — nourishing what grows and turning the soil on spent ideas — to maintain the value proposition of the Section.

Similarly, we need to tend to welcoming and retaining new members, just as a gardener would tend to a new seedling. You cannot plant a seedling and expect it to grow until its roots take hold. The same thing applies to new members or those “testing out” the Section to see whether they want to join. Those of us who have been members of the Section for a long time — the old growth forest, if you will — probably don’t remember what it was like to attend our first in-person Committee meeting or our first Federal Procurement Institute. It’s daunting to walk into a room where it appears, rightly or wrongly, that everyone knows everyone else. As gardeners of the Section, we all need to be particularly mindful to reach out to new, prospective, and recent members to welcome them and, most important, include them in our garden. It’s as easy as sitting near and introducing yourself to someone who you may not know at a meeting or educational program or noticing someone standing alone at a reception and drawing them into your circle of colleagues.

A second lesson of gardening: rotate your crops. A healthy garden cannot grow with the same plants in the same place year after year. This is why, as a Section, we value rotating Section leadership positions. For example, a guide in the appointment process is to rotate Committee Chair positions roughly every three years. By doing so, we allow seasoned practitioners to share their expertise with the next generation while providing leadership opportunities to other members who also can bring their own perspectives to our Committees.

Likewise, in identifying speakers for our educational programs, program chairs strive to invite speakers from different sectors of the industry who have not “rotated” through multiple past panels so that we can learn from new voices. This is not meant to de-value our long-standing contributors. Rather, we need to make room in the garden for new plants if we want the Section to continue to bear fruit.

My final lesson from gardening: diversify your crops. Sure, a vegetable garden can include only Beefsteak tomatoes. But how much more exciting is it to have a garden with three different kinds of tomatoes, plus zucchini, green beans, peppers, eggplant, and herbs? The legal profession and our Section are better, more interesting, more reflective of real life if we strive to promote diversity in all its permutations, welcoming and including members of varying gender, national origin, racial and ethnic backgrounds; sexual orientation and gender identity; members with disabilities; and lawyers and affiliated professionals with different industry employment backgrounds. Our Section prides itself on presenting a fair and balanced perspective on the procurement industry, and a fair and balanced perspective requires diversity.

Thank you for all your efforts on behalf of the Section and for allowing me to be its Chair. I’ll see you in the garden.