ExecutiveBiz talked with Michelle Hertz, vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary, about her background, CGI Federal’s growth over the past decade and her views on the federal acquisition process.
“Implementing a more robust pre-acquisition process would be a win-win approach for all parties because it would eliminate unnecessary business risks for industry and result in more effective competition for taxpayers.”
ExecutiveBiz: As general counsel for a leading federal IT service provider, what skill sets do you find serve you the best in executing your job?
Michelle Hertz: It seems to me that there are a number of skills essential to an effective general counsel. First and foremost, to be an effective counselor, you must be a creative, pragmatic problem solver that delivers timely, business-focused advice that is readily implementable by your clients. Second, to be an effective facilitator, you must be an excellent oral and written communicator who is perceptive (i.e., has a deep understanding of your firm’s culture and business drivers) and has the organizational and emotional intelligence to frame the pros/cons of various options and facilitate timely, informed decision-making. Third, to lead effectively, you must trust your instincts, be authentic and lead by example. Finally, to grow your career, you must be highly-adaptable and embrace change by taking advantage of opportunities to expand your expertise and refine your style/approach. You also must be mindful that what’s worked in the past may not work now or in the future. As you and your team evolve, it’s important to leverage your team more and more on tactical matters they can handle independently and focus your attention on strategic or high-risk matters where you are in a unique position to add value.
ExecutiveBiz: You have been with CGI Federal for eight years. In that time how has the company grown and changed? How has that impacted your roles and responsibilities?
Michelle Hertz: CGI has enjoyed tremendous growth since I joined in April 2010. Literally within days of joining CGI Federal, we began due diligence for CGI Federal’s acquisition of Stanley, Inc., a firm twice its size. The transaction nearly doubled the size of CGI’s U.S. operations, catapulting CGI Federal from a $400 million to a $1.2 billion federal government contractor and diversifying its portfolio by reopening the defense and intelligence markets. Two years later in 2012, CGI acquired Logica, more than doubling the company’s workforce and expanding its global footprint to become the fifth largest independent IT and business consulting services firm in the world. Of course, there have been many transactions since these milestones, along with strong organic growth with new and existing customers, as the company continues to grow its depth and breadth in the global IT marketplace.
In 2010, I was CGI Federal’s first in-house attorney. Since then, my role and responsibilities have grown along with the company, both at a subsidiary level as CGI Federal’s first general counsel and at a corporate level as a leader within the global legal department. Post-acquisition of Stanley, I helped lead CGI Federal’s integration process to drive efficiencies and develop and implement risk mitigation strategies. As part of this process, I revamped CGI Federal’s ethics compliance program, built and resourced new trade and government compliance programs and expanded the legal, contracts and subcontract teams. Along the way, I assumed the role of corporate secretary in December 2011, was promoted to vice president in May 2012 and was appointed as general counsel in January 2014. In my current position, I lead CGI Federal’s legal, compliance and corporate contracts department, managing more than 60 professionals. I also serve as CGI Federal’s ethics officer and oversee its ethics and trade compliance programs. On a corporate level, I now serve as the legal lead for CGI Federal, one of CGI’s seven global operating units, and am responsible for managing its legal budget, corporate legal reporting and legal representation in monthly global leader and bi-annual strategic planning conferences.
ExecutiveBiz: Where do you see that the public and private sector could work together to improve the federal acquisition process?
Michelle Hertz: Given the speed of innovation, it is critical for both the federal government and contractor acquisition professionals to partner more closely with one another and their technical counterparts to better understand and define the government’s requirements and identify any inherent limitations in deliverable solutions. While there will always be a natural (and necessary) tension between the government and its suppliers, efficiencies could be maximized via a more collaborative pre-acquisition process that permits a deeper dialog to clarify government statements of work and addresses problematic business terms and conditions. Implementing a more robust pre-acquisition process would be a win-win approach for all parties because it would eliminate unnecessary business risks for industry and result in more effective competition for taxpayers.
ExecutiveBiz: With nearly 30 years of experience in the federal marketplace how have you seen the government services regulatory framework evolve?
Michelle Hertz: From my perspective, federal procurement is both cyclic and event-driven. This means that, if you are lucky enough to have a long career, what’s old becomes new again as the federal marketplace grows and evolves. A good example of this regulatory recycling is Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs). When I was in private practice in 1998-2004, government contractor clients were interested in learning more about this “new” contracting approach. Well, OTAs are not new now nor were they new back then (actually, NASA was first authorized to use them in 1958). Today, OTAs are regaining popularity and expanding into the IT space as the federal government looks for ways to shorten the acquisition process, gain access to innovative technologies and entice non-traditional firms to enter the federal marketplace. Another example of regulatory recycling is the preferred contracting approach for development work, which has swung from cost-reimbursement to firm-fixed price back to cost-reimbursement-type contract vehicles over the years.
The timing and duration of these cyclic procurement trends also appears to be event-driven. With the current emphasis on deregulation, OTAs are now in vogue as a non-Federal Acquisition Regulation-based means of procuring innovative goods and services on an expedited basis. Our community also has seen the regulatory framework expand in the aftermath of public scandals (such as the recent “Fat Leonard” bribery and Darleen Druyun cases) and contract in times of need (such as to support wartime operations and facilitate cyber defense) or in response to industry “backlash.” Having participated in the procurement process as a government contracting officer, legal practitioner and now as in-house counsel, I regard the evolution of the regulatory framework as a healthy process that helps our industry refresh periodically.
Before joining CGI Federal, Michelle Hertz worked for DynCorp International, Michael Baker Corporation and Holland & Knight LLP and served as a contracting officer with the Naval Air Systems Command.