IRS official to head Homeland Security procurement

A senior procurement official with the Internal Revenue Service has been tapped to become procurement chief of the Homeland Security Department, IRS officials said Tuesday.

Greg Rothwell, who currently serves as the deputy chief of agencywide shared services at IRS, is widely regarded as one of the most seasoned and innovative procurement executives in the federal government. He will take a position that has sat vacant at the new department since it was established in March. Since then, Homeland Security Department officials have debated over how to structure the procurement function, according to sources close to the discussions.

The debate has often centered on the role of procurement versus acquisition-the longer-term process of crafting purchasing strategies to meet an agency's needs. It has become so contentious at times that some observers felt only a widely respected and admired executive would stand a chance of making headway in the job. Some of Rothwell's former colleagues said he fits that bill, and that his appointment is a signal to the Homeland Security leadership that procurement will be given a high priority.

"Rothwell is one of the most outstanding procurement professionals in the federal government," said Steven Kelman, the head of federal procurement in the Clinton administration. It was Rothwell's idea, along with IRS colleague Jim Williams, to strike blanket purchasing agreements with technology hardware vendors using the General Services Administration's schedules contracts, Kelman said. That strategy has been replicated numerous times and has resulted in the government getting better prices on hardware, he added.

The Homeland Security Department could become a hotbed of largely untested procurement methods. The Transportation Security Administration, one of the department's biggest agencies, struck a deal last year with technology firm Unisys that lets the company build and manage the agency's entire communications technology infrastructure. The agency plays a limited role fashioning requirements for the contract, and the contractor is rewarded by how well it meets certain benchmarks that company executives and TSA officials devise.

Now Homeland Security is preparing to award a contract for the US VISIT program to log foreigners crossing American borders that would rely heavily on industry to design and manage a multi-billion dollar system of networks and databases that will stretch across the country.

The Homeland Security procurement director will play a central role in crafting that contract. In that sense, "this really is the job that Greg's been groomed for his entire career," said Bob Welch, a former Treasury Department procurement chief who worked with Rothwell.

Rothwell will report to Janet Hale, the Homeland Security undersecretary for management. That should add to his credibility throughout the department because of the control Hale exerts over the budget process.

Homeland Security officials had no immediate comment about the news of Rothwell's appointment, which was announced in a voicemail message sent Tuesday morning from the head of Rothwell's office, said Gregory Doyle, the IRS deputy procurement executive. It was not clear when Rothwell would begin his new assignment.

As deputy of the shared services office, Rothwell was involved in a major component of the IRS' ongoing efforts to upgrade its antiquated technology systems. The office has provided facilities, procurement and personnel for the program. At the time of Rothwell's appointment to the position in July 1999, then-IRS commissioner Charles Rossotti praised him for his "years of experience . . . running effective procurement and other service programs."

In his new post, Rothwell will work with his former IRS colleague Williams, who is the program manager of US VISIT. A request for proposals is expected in November, and the department plans to award a contract to a single vendor in May 2004.

Prior to taking his current IRS job, Rothwell was the assistant commissioner for procurement. He also worked in the Office of Thrift Supervision, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board and the Interior Department before arriving at the IRS in 1990.

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