New procurement chief seeks to ramp up job competitions

Paul Denett, the Office of Management and Budget's new procurement policy chief, wants agencies to ramp up efforts to put federal jobs up for competition from private firms, he said in a recent interview. Denett also pledged to focus on bringing the right people into government acquisition jobs through internship programs and to boost training efforts.

In an interview with Government Executive, Denett laid out his priorities as administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. A former career acquisition official at the Treasury and Interior departments, Denett most recently worked in the private sector at ESI International, a contract management training company in Arlington, Va.

Denett said in his new role he would look at both the "nose count" of agency contracting personnel and at workforce competencies, coordinating with the Federal Acquisition Institute, the Office of Personnel Management and the Chief Acquisition Officers Council.

"We really have to get it right -- how many people do we need and what competencies do they need? -- because otherwise there's a reaction of 'I just don't have enough people,' and that's too easy an answer," Denett said. He added that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Homeland Security Department are notable exceptions, where additional contracting personnel are clearly needed.

The problem is that adding acquisition people is "almost like a zero-sum game," Denett said. "What I'm hearing from some key people is, 'It's really tough to fill these jobs and when I do, I'm robbing from Peter to pay Paul,' " because agencies fill critical acquisition posts by hiring people away from other agencies.

Denett, who started internship programs at both Treasury and Interior, said he would seek to gauge agencies' success in attracting and retaining top talent.

Contract management is an important area that gets short shrift at many agencies, Denett said, proposing to use simple, low-budget strategies to spur the heads of procurement shops to focus more on post-award issues. For example, he said, asking agencies to report on contracts that are completed but not closed out could create an embarrassment factor that would lead to the books being updated.

Denett said that as a procurement official, he found that an effective strategy was simply shifting some staff to purely post-award duties. He also noted that the Defense Department has the capacity to manage other agencies' contracts, and said he would encourage civilian agencies to take advantage of the service.

OMB is satisfied with assessments indicating that agencies are winning about 80 percent of public-private job competitions with companies, Denett said, but he plans to increase the pace of the administration's competitive sourcing effort.

"I may be the only administrator in the history of OMB that actually was involved with a [competition], though they didn't have the term competitive sourcing back then," Denett said, referring to an experience as the head of contracting at the U.S. Geological Survey.

He said he would work with Congress to remove legislative barriers, such as the restrictions some agencies face in carrying out "best value" competitions, which take into account factors other than cost.

Denett said his office has begun looking at interagency contracts, which the Government Accountability Office has labeled a high-risk area, by making a survey of the contract vehicles available at different agencies.

He highlighted an initiative to add a new score card rating agencies on their work with small businesses, as well as the development of new regulations to boost the integrity of the "small business" designation in federal contracting. Once the Small Business Administration drafts a regulation for annual recertification of businesses' size status, OFPP will work with them to implement it, Denett said.

He also said he would focus on the "huge potential" that lies in expanding strategic sourcing, in which agencies consolidate their purchases to negotiate better prices. Acknowledging concerns expressed by small businesses that they get shut out of these and other mega-contracts, Denett said his office would ensure small business owners continue to have access to federal contracts not just as subcontractors, but as primes.

"That's where they feel really in control and they get the maximum benefit of controlling their own destiny," he said.

Kimberly Palmer contributed to this report.

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