Straight Shooter

The new procurement chief, Paul Denett, offers an inside view of competitive sourcing and contract management.

Paul A. Denett, recently confirmed as Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator at the Office of Management and Budget, is the first procurement veteran to become OFPP chief in the Bush administration. Denett was senior procurement executive at the Interior and Treasury departments before joining the private sector. He comes to OFPP from ESI International, a contract management training company in Arlington, Va. Denett sat down with Government Executive in late August to talk about his priorities. The following is an edited transcript.

On competitive sourcing, where federal workers compete with private sector employees for their jobs:
I certainly want to advance competitive sourcing. It's really good for our country, it's good for the taxpayers, and we have achieved some success, but I'd like to increase the pace.

I don't know this for a fact, but I may be the only administrator in the history of OMB who actually was involved with a competitive sourcing, though they didn't have the term "competitive sourcing" back then. [Denett oversaw what would now be called an A-76 competition when he was head of contracts at the U.S. Geological Survey.] There's a lot of angst among employees when you do competitive sourcing, but I know firsthand what that's like and I know proactive steps you can take to alleviate it. Interestingly enough, federal employees have won 80 percent of [A-76 competitions]. That's fine with us. We're just looking for a better deal for the taxpayers.
On contract management:
Too often, with limited resources, people focus on getting the contract award [and not post-award contract administration]. What I've found, having been in charge of various procurement shops, is that the leaders of the procurement shops have to be conscious of this. . . .We'd rather police ourselves . . . than wait until an inspector general or someone else says, look at this, it's two years behind schedule and it's costing twice as much money. Defense has actual agencies that do nothing but contract management. And they make themselves available to civilian agencies. Historically, there's a reluctance on the part of most civilian agencies to use them. Too often it evolves into a we-they scenario, as in, "We want to manage our own contracts, why would we want to turn it over to them?" But I'm going to work with the Defense Department to make sure people are reminded of the availability of that kind of help. We've got to do something about it, because it's embarrassing sometimes, the lack of attention we give to contract administration.
On the acquisition workforce:
We need to answer for ourselves, "What's the right number?" It's not a universal answer. Some want to say there's a magic number, a ratio of how many contract people you need per contract transaction or dollar, but my experience is there is no magic formula. It just depends on the complexity of the contracts.

There are a lot of private companies doing some great training. I came from one . . . so between the Defense Acquisition University, Federal Acquisition Institute and all the private sector companies, we have most of the training we need. It's getting people into it.
On small business:
We're going to do what we can to raise its visibility. We're going to work with [the Small Business Administration] to come up with a score card system where we can rank agencies' accomplishments in terms of supporting small business. One of the main elements of that is moving toward counting legitimate small businesses as small businesses. We're going to require periodic recertification.
On ethics:
I believe the overwhelming majority of contracting officers are extremely ethical. They know the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately, there are a few bad apples, and by the nature of reporting, they get a disproportionate amount of ink. I'd like to get more upbeat stories to counter some of the negative stuff on the ethical questions.
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