Procurement chief seeks sharing of contract pricing data, star recruits

OMB photo
Some agencies have so little understanding of what their “sister agencies pay for commodities, it’s shocking,” said Joe Jordan, newly installed administrator of the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy. The “paucity of pricing data” in one case involving bulk purchases of BlackBerry mobile devices meant a price variance of 100 percent, he said.

Jordan offered an overview of his office’s agenda at a Thursday breakfast for the contracting community put on by the Professional Services Council.

His three top priorities are buying smarter, creating effective relationships with government suppliers and developing the acquisition workforce.

Jordan, who came to OMB earlier this year after a stint at the Small Business Administration and years as a private sector consultant, said, “We want to improve the way government works, and there’s no better place than contracting,” where $1 of $6 in federal money is spent.

Buying smarter means “instead of operating as 130 mid-size entities engaging vendors and one-off awards, we should amp up strategic sourcing in a thoughtful and strategic way that leverages buying power and achieve other goals such as reducing high-risk contracting,” Jordan said. The best model is the General Services Administration’s OS2 Strategic Sourcing vehicle for office supplies, which steers 76 percent of contract dollars to small businesses and is on pace to save $250 million by end of 2013, he said.

The right mix of suppliers means relying on “collaborative, not adversarial,” approaches to using small and disadvantaged businesses without being “anti-big business,” which is a “win-win.” By stressing transparency, agencies and contractors can be assured that contract awards are made on “real facts and decision criteria” while curbing waste, fraud and abuse.

“There’s also an oversight component,” he added, describing “timely enforcement against the few bad actors” by making it clear enough cops are on the beat. “Suspension and debarment should not mean flaying in the public square, but should be a deterrent that prevents” bad behavior from the outset, Jordan said.

Equally important is “getting data and aligning incentives” so that agency contracting officers don’t feel they’re being punished when they’re asked for data about whether they got the best price, he said.

His third priority, developing the acquisition workforce, means planning beyond the 36,000 contracting officers (two-thirds of them at the Pentagon) to the broader population of program managers and post-award contract officer representatives. At the White House, “we make it clear that acquisition is not an ancillary function but a core of what we do. People perk up when they see we’re talking about real money,” Jordan added.

Praising his predecessors’ two “Mythbusters” memos encouraging greater communication between agencies and competing contractors, he said he’d seen improvements in understanding on the vendors’ side but detects a lack of awareness at some agencies. He said he’s been working on the issue with federal chief information officers through his “joined at the hip” colleague, federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoeckel.

Asked about the possibility of acquisition workforce layoffs under an across-the-board budget sequester, as threatened under the 2011 Budget Control Act, Jordan reiterated the Office of Management and Budget position that “the sequester is bad policy and Congress has time to act -- it was not meant to be an outcome but a forcing mechanism” for a larger deficit reduction deal.

Jordan said the government continues to recruit for the acquisition workforce, targeting young people just out of college, telling them, he joked, “we know your dream is to be quarterback of the New England Patriots, but how’d you like to be a federal contracting officer?” He said the focus is less on finding people “who have memorized” the Federal Acquisition Regulation and more on finding smart people and teaching them the FAR, using such learning centers as the Federal Acquisition Institute and the Defense Acquisition University.

Though some agencies have complained that star recruits are sometimes lured to other agencies, Jordan said he found that healthy. “That’s how we get the great talent to come in,” he said. “The workforce is a classic case of investment versus expenditure. Getting the right mix will pay dividends.”

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