Procurement Chief on Top of Her Game

Deidre Lee, who has been Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator less than a year, has already mastered the fine points of the position. When racing to a meeting out of the office, she knows to hit the elevator button twice to get the machine to move. Back in the 1980s, the door speed was adjusted to give William Casey, President Reagan's director of central intelligence, time to get in. His office was right down the hall from Lee's on the third floor of Washington's Old Executive Office Building, but Casey was a slow walker.

Lee also recognizes it's smart to be on good terms with the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs administrator, who sits in the office next to hers. OIRA and OFPP staff work closely on a host of government regulations. Also, it's only through the OIRA chief's office that you can enjoy the third floor balcony. Lee could climb out her window to get there, but that would be seen as undignified.

More serious matters also are commanding Lee's attention.

One controversial issue Lee has taken on relates to the many agencies seeking executive agent status under the 1996 information technology management reform law known as the Clinger-Cohen Act. In addition to establishing agency chief information officers, the law gives the Office of Management and Budget director (Lee's boss) the authority to let agency heads run governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs). Some wonder whether there aren't too many of these contracts already, and others question whether they are being adequately administered. Without this delegation, agencies wanting to use other agencies' GWACs would have to make a formal Economy Act determination that it would be in the government's best interest, making these vehicles much less user friendly.

In the past, agencies were given authority to operate governmentwide IT acquisition contracts under a delegation of procurement authority from the General Services Administration. The Transportation Department used this process for its initial Information Technology Omnibus Procurement (ITOP) contract. Some 250 contractors (primes and subcontractors) offered IT services under this vehicle. However, Clinger-Cohen relieved GSA of many of its IT responsibilities and shifted the oversight role to OMB.

Transportation received authority from OMB to award and administer task orders under this new vehicle for its follow-on ITOP II contract. Commerce has requested similar authority for COMMITS [Commerce Information Technology Solutions], its innovative small-business GWAC.

OMB Director Jacob Lew says his agency is continuing to review how GWACs should be used. Therefore, ITOP II operations are authorized only until Sept. 30, 2000. More importantly, from Lee's perspective, Lew sets a number of conditions on ITOP II's operations. They read like a primer for acquisition reform.

ITOP II must be a model for using competition, financial incentives and other good contracting principles and the executive agent must have an effective system for managing the contract. Key reform principles such as past performance, good accounting structures, best value approaches, performance-based work statements and solid small business participation are all key prerequisites. One measure that will not sit well with industry, however, is a requirement that federal organizations be permitted to compete along with private firms to become contract holders.

OMB has always used its legislative control process and the budget to manage the President's agenda. Now Clinger-Cohen offers it another lever to get results. For example, Transportation must substantiate its compliance with these reform principles by providing OFPP on a semiannual basis information including:

  • Total dollar value of awards.
  • The number and dollar value of awards subject to competition.
  • Contract administration costs.
  • Use of performance measures and customer satisfaction data.
  • Performance-based contracting methods employed.
  • The value of dollar awards to small business.
In her effort to identify and promote what works, Lee is concerned about the lack of data on multiple-award contracts, such as how many are in play and which ones are most effective. She is contemplating an electronic "yellow pages" that would create a solid database on these awards, including information on contract conditions, organizations on board and revenues. It is another way to communicate "best in class" operations to both government officials and contractors.

The revamped Federal Procurement Council is beginning to provide the kind of information-sharing that will help bring best practices to all agencies. One way is by offering new cost-saving opportunities for joint agency training.

Close oversight of GWACs, a plan to create a contract awards database, and a more effective Federal Procurement Council all offer evidence of Lee's commitment to implementing reforms. As she says, "we're making progress."

Allan V. Burman, a former Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator, is president of Jefferson Solutions in Washington.

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