Catherine Tyrell

Health and Human Services
Catherine Tyrell

Chief Acquisition Officer

In May, Clay Johnson, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, gave the government's chief acquisition officers an Oct. 1 deadline: Use strategic sourcing to identify three contracting areas where products could be purchased more cheaply and more efficiently. One month later the Health and Human Services Department had found six, prompting it to strike new contracts for office supplies, furniture and equipment, custodial products, IT peripherals and document management. With three more contracts currently under review, these nine account for about $200 million in spending-a fraction of the approximately $11 billion the department spends annually on procurement. But according to Chief Acquisition Officer Catherine Tyrell, it's an important first step. "We started with the low-hanging fruit because it gets people on board," Tyrell says.

Tyrell came to HHS in February 2001 to work for the Administration for Children and Families after a three-year stint with the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican National Committee. Eight months later, she joined the newly created Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management as special assistant to the secretary. ASAM has the largest procurement office in the department (HHS has 36 procurement offices), and it houses the procurement policy shop. There, Tyrell discovered the size and the scope of HHS purchasing. "I learned that the question of what we buy often ends up being the question of what don't we buy," she says. Tyrell became the department's first chief acquisition officer in May 2004.

HHS must deal with the effects of turnover. About a third of the department's 65,000 employees now are eligible for retirement, and procurement is a specialized field where departures will be quickly felt. As Tyrell notes, "You can't just hire someone off the street. You need a real business focus."

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