Senate confirms federal procurement chief

David Safavian to move into position that has been vacant for more than a year.

The Senate on Sunday confirmed David Safavian, a former General Services Administration chief of staff who also has extensive congressional staff and lobbying experience, as the Office of Management and Budget's next federal procurement chief.

OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy has gone without an administrator for the 14 months since Angela Styles left the job. Industry groups had urged the Senate to fill the position quickly so that the controversial competitive sourcing initiative, which encourages agencies to let private sector companies bid on thousands of federal jobs, wouldn't go too long without a champion.

But following a Senate Governmental Affairs committee confirmation hearing in late April and the panel's approval of Safavian in June, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va, placed a hold on the nomination, delaying a full Senate vote. Byrd lifted that hold later in the summer after meeting with Safavian.

At his confirmation hearing, Safavian pledged to advance the competitive sourcing initiative but also signaled that he was open to adjusting some of the rules for job competitions. For example, he expressed support for efforts to grant federal employees and contractors parallel rights to appeal competition decisions.

But John Threlkeld, a lobbyist for the American Federation of Government Employees, said Monday that Safavian also has "openly discussed explicitly reviving direct conversions," a process of awarding jobs to contractors without competition. Direct conversions are banned in OMB's May 2003 revisions to Circular A-76, which sets the rules for competitive sourcing.

"Safavian has been lobbying for months against bipartisan attempts to reform the Bush administration's pro-contractor privatization process, so we expect little change overall from his belated confirmation," Threlkeld said.

Cathy Garman, senior vice president of public policy at the Contract Services Association, which represents federal contractors, said Monday that she's relieved the position is filled. While the "people at OFPP are great, you need a leader," she said.

"A lot of times when you're holding out like that, it's harder to institute new initiatives," Garman said. "You're kind of in a holding pattern."

In addition to handling the competitive sourcing issue, Safavian will oversee traditional acquisition policy as head of OFPP. He has expressed interest in such reforms as share-in-savings contracting, under which contractors are paid from savings generated by their work, but has downplayed the necessity of comprehensive changes to the way the government buys services.

While awaiting confirmation, Safavian acted as counselor to OMB Deputy Director for Management Clay Johnson. Prior to his November 2003 nomination to head OFPP, Safavian served as chief of staff at GSA. He also has worked for Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, and former House members William Schuette and Robert Davis, both Republicans who represented Michigan.