Procurement Chief Nominee Stresses Acquisition Training, Contractor Price Data

Rung said program managers and contracting officials “have a thankless job and rarely get the recognition they deserve.” Rung said program managers and contracting officials “have a thankless job and rarely get the recognition they deserve.” United Stated Department of Commerce file photo

President Obama’s choice to administer the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy would seek to enhance the expertise of the government’s in-house acquisition workforce while gathering better interagency data on past prices paid for products and contractor services.

Anne Rung, a current budget office adviser who was chief acquisition officer at the General Services Administration, was greeted warmly by senators at a Thursday hearing of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Her top priorities if confirmed, Rung said, would be increased use of strategic sourcing to “purchase items by category more than individually to reduce duplication and aid oversight;” greater innovation in acquisition “to speed up registration time for companies and make it easier to search for contract opportunities;” and improving the training, skills and resources of the acquisition workforce.

Drawing on her previous work at the Commerce Department and the Pennsylvania General Services Department, Rung said program managers and contracting officials “have a thankless job and rarely get the recognition they deserve.”

Rung credited the Obama administration for “working together with Congress” to realize solid improvements in contracting. “Contract spending is down by $80 billion, there are now more than two dozen strategic sourcing solutions under way, and the Government Accountability Office removed interagency contracting from its high risk list in 2013.”

Her key strategy, she added, would be expanding the strategic sourcing push, noting that GSA when she arrived in 2011 had just three or four strategic sourcing vehicles but now has 24. “I would like to bring all the agency efforts under the umbrella” of the seven-agency Strategic Sourcing Leadership Council run by the Office of Management and Budget to arrive at an approach to joint purchasing of services, she said.

“Contracting of services differs from bulk purchasing of commodities,” Rung said. “The strategy is to provide greater transparency and visibility of what we’re buying and from whom, to create common best practices and teams of experts to drive competition. It’s a huge area of opportunity.”

Hearing Chairwoman Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., while praising Rung’s successes at GSA, complained of an “absence of leadership” in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, noting months-long vacancies in which the post—filled on an acting basis by Lesley Field since Joe Jordan left in January—throughout Obama’s tenure. “It’s frustrating for me because often we can’t get the administrator as a witness, a huge problem for oversight” said McCaskill, who chairs the panel’s contracting subcommittee.

She asked Rung why the White House didn’t allow other political appointees to testify to Congress. Rung said that was the policy of the Executive Office of the President, but she didn’t know who decided it.

McCaskill also pressed Rung to urge OMB to conduct more cost-benefit analysis of whether outsourcing more work to contractors saves money, and the senator urged better communication from OMB and more clarity on governmentwide use of the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) to track company ownership and subcontracting to better circulate data on contractor past performance.

Rung replied that OMB “has made great progress on use of FAPIIS, and agency plans are now being scrubbed and reviewed.”

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., echoed the complaints about “an absence of leadership” at OFPP, and said he hopes Rung “will bring to OMB the same vigor she had at GSA to make a difference.” The biggest problem for federal contracting policy, he said, is, “We really don’t know what we want. We don’t have people in government who know how to buy information technology, and they should be federal employees, not contractors.” Coburn said he wanted to better “hold contractors accountable if they don’t do what’s in their contract and give us walk-away rights.”

Too often, Coburn added, contractors charge different rates for the same agreement negotiated with other agencies. Rung replied by noting that GSA has launched the first prices paid portal. “I would like to continue to get good data to negotiate prices down,” she said, recalling that when she worked for the Pennsylvania government, “there was a huge variance in what agencies paid, one paying $24 for a case of ketchup and another paying $12.”

She also cited her state-level experience in addressing concerns from Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Armed Services Committee, that the Defense Department acquisition workforce needs better training.  Complimenting Defense undersecretary for acquisitions, technology and logistics Frank Kendall, Rung said, “We need to look at new and innovative ways, for smart practices to create specialized areas.” In Pennsylvania, she recalled, a procurement officer on one day might be buying a vehicle, the next day he’s buying pens and pencils, and the following day complex information technology services.”

At the Commerce Department, Rung said, where she worked on some “high-profile contracts,” there’s a new acquisition management structure and “strong agency leadership.” It asks, “before you go to the Big A, whether we really need to buy this, and, if so, what’s the best way? And most important, what to buy,” Rung said. “Agencies struggle with this.”

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