David Safavian graduated fifth in his class at Detroit College of Law, served as a legislative aide to Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, and Rep. William Schuette, R-Mich., and worked at one of Washington's premier lobby shops, Janus-Merritt Strategies. But in federal acquisition circles, Safavian, President Bush's pick to oversee federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget, is still something of an unknown.
"He doesn't have a lot of background in procurement, so the hope is that he's a good learner," says Steven Kelman, who served as federal procurement administrator in the Clinton administration. "I don't know where David Safavian comes out on [acquisition reform]," says Allan Burman, another former procurement chief. Angela Styles, who held the top acquisition post until last September, says Safavian has "no apparent philosophy" on procurement issues. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee approved Safavian's nomination on June 2.
In some fields-financial management, for instance-federal executives can go their entire careers without articulating a philosophy about their work. But Safavian has been tapped to lead the procurement community, where debate over the acquisition reforms of the 1990s still rages. Kelman, the architect of those reforms, remains a steady voice in favor of them. Styles is a skeptic, a provocateur who charges that the reforms-including creating governmentwide contracts, lifting restrictions on General Services Administration schedules, and streamlining bid proposals and competition-have gone too far and fostered abuse. As an example, she cites misuse of information technology contracts by GSA's Federal Technology Service.
Safavian's supporters say he is less ideological than some of his predecessors. He cut his procurement teeth at GSA, where he served as chief of staff when problems at FTS surfaced. He did not associate those improprieties with acquisition reform. "He walked away with an appreciation that what we need is good guidance on how we manage services," says a procurement official at a civilian agency who requested anonymity. OMB declined a request for an interview with Safavian because he is not yet confirmed by the full Senate.
Asked whether he shared Styles' emphasis on "procurement basics," which advocates of reform view as code words for rolling back change, Safavian pledged his support for the 1990s-era renovations. "I believe solutions can be achieved for most problems that do not erode the efficiencies Congress authorized over the past decade and, more importantly, maintain the trust in our workforce's ability to exercise good business judgment," he wrote in an April 16 response to questions from the Governmental Affairs Committee.
Observers note that Safavian's wife, Jennifer, is chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the House Government Reform Committee chaired by Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who is the legislative force behind the new era of acquisition reform. At his Senate confirmation hearing, Safavian had kind words for a Davis-backed initiative: broadening the use of share-in-savings contracting. Safavian termed it an "intriguing concept [that is] worth agencies' consideration." The approach allows agencies and contractors to split savings generated by projects.
As procurement administrator, Safavian would be the Bush administration's point man for its controversial competitive sourcing initiative, which likely would take up much of his time. But some experts say OMB should attend to broader acquisition issues. If Safavian is confirmed, he would take office at a time of increased procurement scrutiny. Ethics fallout over Boeing executive Darleen Druyun's criminal plea, controversy about the use of contractors in Iraq, and revelations of questionable practices at FTS could spur further investigation. Those who know him predict Safavian would move quickly to improve the management of services contracting, possibly by writing a new section of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.