How to Become a ‘Beltway Bandit’


By Alan King

Howard University News Service


After cramming seven years of classes into five years, Rob Holder said that managing a $40 million account is a piece of cake.


Now, he is the program director for the contract that provides information technology support to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.


The Electronic Data System Corporation where Holder works provides a number of services to state, local and federal government.


“Corporations bid on contracts. It’s very, very big money. It is easily a multi-billion a year industry,” Holder said. The scores of firms in the industry, especially the ones based near the   highway that circles the Washington area, sometimes are referred to as the “Beltway Bandits.”


Not everyone is eligible to join the most elite of the Beltway Bandits who take on projects that put them in contact with highly classified government activities and materials.  Holder says he is among them because of an unblemished record that earned him coveted security clearances.


His clearances for the Department of Defense in 1999, the CIA and the National Security Agency in 2002 have enabled him to earn a lot more money.


“You gotta keep your nose clean. You can’t have any run-ins with authorities,” Holder said, or “you severely limit your [situation].”


Spaced among his other accolades on a wall behind his wraparound desk, is a plaque honoring him among the Federal 100 winners, who rose to the occasion after Hurricane Katrina. His company followed the ATF to the Gulf Coast.


“We make sure that technology is available for them so all these guys [have to] do is go ahead and chase after the bad guys,” Holder said. “Wherever ATF goes, we go.”


This includes the World Series, the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, Super Bowls and G8 Summits.


Prior to joining the EDS, Holder spent 20 years in the Air Force doing a range of jobs from data network manager to chief of command and control systems to plans and policy officer.


Among his successes, was when he served two years as commander of the 32nd Combat Communications Squadron in the 1990s. He trained and equipped personnel to operate and maintain 26 communications, computer, air traffic control and navigational aids systems to support air and military operations in the “No Fly” zone over Iraq after Desert Storm.


“We go into places that don’t have any [communications] and establish [it] so that the war fighters can communicate with both one another and back to their home base,” Holder said.


He also served the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon in June 1999 until he retired in October 2001.


“I retired out of the Air Force about five years ago,” Holder said. “Literally, retired on a Friday and went to work with EDS on a Monday and been with [them] ever since.”


Staying busy is nothing new to Holder, who remembers taking heavy course loads while working a full-time job when he was a student at Howard University 25 years ago. He also knows the hard work doesn’t stop there.


“Howard University laid a phenomenal foundation for me to cope in the world. Not just from a learned experience, but just have to go through the experience of registering for classes-it just gave me a lot of good learning points and small victories,” Holder said.


So when approaching a tough task, he remembers an even tougher one he took on to avoid spending another two and a half years in school.


“When people [ask me] ‘How do you run a $40 million account?’ I say ‘Please, at Howard I took 22 credit hours a semester, nine credit hours over the summer and 25 credit hours in the spring,” Holder said. “After doing that, I can do anything.”