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Resume Padders Wanted (Not)

Vern Edwards


In a hearing held on November 14, 1973, before the Subcommittee on Priorities and Economy in Government of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, the late, great Elmer Staats, Comptroller General of the United States and member of the special Commission on Government Procurement, told the late, great Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin of his high hopes for the proposed Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) as a source of leadership in the formulation and execution of procurement policy:

We think that there is a literal nightmare of conflicting and confusing contracting regulations or statutes as to procedures, which can do nothing more than cost the Federal Government a great deal of money by virtue of not having a stronger point of leadership in the executive branch to deal with these problems… There is no disagreement anywhere on the need for stronger leadership… [W]ithout legislation the executive branch is not going to face up to this problem in a realistic way.

* * *

As you know, a three year effort was recently completed for the Commission [on Government Procurement], created by Congress, of which I was a member, devoted entirely to a study of Government Procurement. Through this effort, we found a widespread consensus at both the grass-roots and highest levels in Government and industry of the need for a focal point in the executive branch to exercise leadership in (1) formulating and coordinating basic procurement policies and (2) overseeing their implementation in a procurement process which now involves the expenditure of $50 billion annually. It was found also that a central point of leadership was needed to work with the Congress in modernizing and consolidating the present fragmented statutory base and to develop a more uniform regulatory system among the many Federal agencies with extensive procurement activities.

Well, the system now spends about $500 billion annually, and we have our titular leadership focal point, the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget in the Executive Office of the President. Unfortunately, with only few exceptions, that leadership position has been occupied by a series of resume-padding bench warmers with few if any qualifications for the job (other than, maybe, a law degree -- which is not the same as professional knowledge of procurement) or with little if any leadership vision or ambition. The latest of them has announced his departure and plans to go to work for a reverse auction contractor. He will not be missed. Few will even notice he is gone.

According to the December 2 issue of Time magazine:

The President has never surrounded himself with people who have deep experience in managing government.

OFPP is a case in point.

​The duties and authority of the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy are set forth in 41 U.S.C. 1121 and 1122. According to 41 U.S.C. 1121(a) and ( b ):

(a) Overall Direction and Leadership. The Administrator shall provide overall direction of procurement policy and leadership in the development of procurement systems of the executive agencies.

( b ) Federal Acquisition Regulation. -- To the extent that the Administrator considers appropriate in carrying out the policies and functions set forth in this division, and with due regard for applicable laws and the program activities of the executive agencies, the Administrator may prescribe Government-wide procurement policies. The policies shall be implemented in a single Government-wide procurement regulation called the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

According to 41 U.S.C. 1122, the functions of the Administrator are as follows:

(a) In General.— The functions of the Administrator include—

(1) providing leadership and ensuring action by the executive agencies in establishing, developing, and maintaining the single system of simplified Government-wide procurement regulations and resolving differences among the executive agencies in developing simplified Government-wide procurement regulations, procedures, and forms;

(2) coordinating the development of Government-wide procurement system standards that executive agencies shall implement in their procurement systems;

(3) providing leadership and coordination in formulating the executive branch position on legislation relating to procurement;

(4)(A) providing for and directing the activities of the computer-based Federal Procurement Data System (including recommending to the Administrator of General Services a sufficient budget for those activities), which shall be located in the General Services Administration, in order to adequately collect, develop, and disseminate procurement data; and

( B ) ensuring executive agency compliance with the record requirements of section 1712 of this title;

(5) providing for and directing the activities of the Federal Acquisition Institute established under section 1201 of this title, including recommending to the Administrator of General Services a sufficient budget for such activities.

(6) administering section 1703 (a) to (i) of this title [management of the acquisition workforce];

(7) establishing criteria and procedures to ensure the effective and timely solicitation of the viewpoints of interested parties in the development of procurement policies, regulations, procedures, and forms;

(8) developing standard contract forms and contract language in order to reduce the Federal Government’s cost of procuring property and services and the private sector’s cost of doing business with the Federal Government;

(9) providing for a Government-wide award to recognize and promote vendor excellence;

(10) providing for a Government-wide award to recognize and promote excellence in officers and employees of the Federal Government serving in procurement-related positions;

(11) developing policies, in consultation with the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, that ensure that small businesses, qualified HUBZone small business concerns (as defined in section 3(p) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 632 (p))), small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and small businesses owned and controlled by women are provided with the maximum practicable opportunities to participate in procurements that are conducted for amounts below the simplified acquisition threshold;

(12) developing policies that will promote achievement of goals for participation by small businesses, small business concerns owned and controlled by service-disabled veterans, qualified HUBZone small business concerns (as defined in section 3(p) of the Small Business Act (15 U.S.C. 632 (p))), small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, and small businesses owned and controlled by women; and

(13) completing action, as appropriate, on the recommendations of the Commission on Government Procurement.

We still need leadership, now more than ever, but we are not going to get it -- not from this president or the next one. No one seems to take OFPP seriously, and with good reason based on its history. Only one administrator in recent memory has shown any leadership, Steve Kelman, and he left during President Clinton’s second term. No one since him has made much of an impression. (How many of them can you name?) No administrator has used his or her authority under 41 U.S.C. 1201 and 1703 to improve the quality of training provided to acquisition personnel by the Federal Acquisition Institute and the Defense Acquisition University. The leadership we have gotten has consisted mainly in showing up at this or that function, saying a few things about how important procurement is and how great the workforce is, putting out a not very memorable memo or two that most people don't read, and then taking off for greener pastures after a decent interval. The standard decent interval is about two years. We didn’t even get a decent interval from this last guy.

Our statutes and regulations are a mess. Our processes are cumbersome and inefficient, and needlessly costly and time-consuming. The members of our workforce, though smart enough, have little knowledge of the complex rule system (read the posts in Wifcon Forum), lack top-notch practitioner skills, and are not as competent as they should and could be. Yet, despite a lot of talk, we do not have an even adequate regime of professional education and training, much less an excellent or "World Class" one. In short, acquisition is a mess. Witness the health care website fiasco.

We need an administrative powerhouse, a heroine or a hero, not just a good guy or a nice gal, but heroines and heroes are not easy to find. Even if we found one, I doubt that she or he would want the job. A capable person might consider the nomination an insult. It is unlikely that anyone but another helpless and useless resume padder would want it. There will be another resume padder. I guarantee it.

Somebody in the Senate, anybody, of either party, should think about next year’s $500 billion, and the billions to come in the years after that, and block the nomination.


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A leader would, by definition, challenge the status quo--the same status quo that lobbyists and other influence-peddlers work so hard to maintain. As one executive of a Top 5 government contractor told me once, in a rare moment of candor, "those complicated and onerous rules are a good barrier to competition."

So while I agree a leader is desperately needed at OFFP (and elsewhere in the Executive Branch), I don't see it happening any time soon. Nor do I see Congress caring, since they all know where the butter on their bread comes from.

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As usual, you have raised a great topic for discussion. Your comments on leadership and the lack thereof, are on point. There are, however, a few more points to be made:

  • Don’t forget the “vision” thing. A capable leader without vision is at best a waste of talent. A strong leader with the wrong vision is a potential disaster.
  • Subject matter knowledge and relevant credentials are helpful, but good analysis, imagination, creativity, and the willingness to listen critically are essential.
  • OFPP isn’t the only organization that could use leaders with vision – and a little courage.

Although a number of past OFFP Administrators have had excellent qualifications for the job, including leadership skills, what they lacked was vision. Or, perhaps to be kinder, they were saddled with the vision of others, and it was a vision that produced no enthusiasm for strong leadership. You express the opinion that Steve Kelman was a good leader. I agree. However, Steve was perhaps the least professionally qualified of recent Administrators for the job. The thing that made him the most successful at the job was that he came into the position with a clear vision of what needed to be changed , why it needed to be changed, and a plan for how it could be changed. Fortunately, Steve’s vision was in many ways the right vision for the time and resonated with the personal (but generally unstated) beliefs of many in the procurement community. It was also a contrarian vision- at least from the perspective of our Congressional experts. What we lack now is not just leadership, but rather a vision for the future of government contracting that the community can rally behind. Quite frankly, an agenda based on sophomoric platitudes, recycled and failed themes from the past, and the demonization of contractors, just doesn’t cut it.

Further, even the most benign elements of recent agendas do not generate much enthusiasm. Case in point: the need for a better educated workforce. Sounds like the proverbial apple pie. But, perhaps, what is needed is a bit more critical thinking. Why, for example, are we still bemoaning the lack of a trained acquisition workforce, when the development of that cadre of civilian government employees has received more attention than any other over the last 40 years? Are we missing something? Why are complex system acquisition failure rates not significantly improved after decades of monumental process reformations? Are we missing something? Perhaps what we need is more contrarian thinking. And maybe some creativity.

Kelman’s success was also, in part, a product of his ability to encourage others in the procurement community to take a chance and think outside our politically correct boxes. Quite frankly, many of the imaginative, exciting, and successful initiatives of that era came not from Steve but from the rank and file. Steve’s gift was the ability to critically listen to their ideas, provide encouragement, support and cover, and cheer them on. Which brings up my last point. Leadership is not the exclusive domain of the Administrator of OFPP. It comes also from people like you Vern, who have the courage to speak their mind on difficult issues. It also comes from all the rest of us.

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