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An agenda for the new OFPP Administrator

Posted by Vern Edwards, 28 June 2012 · 3,126 views

We have a new Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Administrator, The Honorable Joseph Jordan.

Most OFPP Administrators served about two years and didn’t do anything that had much of a lasting remedial effect on a system with which no one is very happy. Appointees have had a variety of qualifications. If I remember rightly, only two had ever worked in a contracting office doing contracting work.

OFPP’s job is to:

(1) provide overall direction of Government-wide procurement policies, regulations, procedures, and forms for executive agencies; and

(2) promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the procurement of property and services by the executive branch of the Federal Government.

41 U.S.C. 1101. (The statutory definition of “procurement” is substantially the same as the definition of “acquisition” in FAR 2.101.)

The Administrator’s job is to:

provide overall direction of procurement policy and leadership in the development of procurement systems of the executive agencies.

41 U.S.C. 1121. The statute says:

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.

There is a long list of specific functions in 41 U.S.C. 1122. However, if you read the statute closely you will see that the Administrator’s powers, as opposed to his functions, appear to be limited. Two non-political appointee positions -- the Director of Defense Procurement and the Director of Defense Pricing – have more immediate and effective power, and the appointees usually stay in their jobs longer.

The new Administrator told the Senate during his confirmation hearings that his priorities are: (1) buying smarter, (2) building the right supplier relationships, (3) strengthening the acquisition workforce, and (4) remaining “mindful” of the relationship between Federal employees and contractors. He offered few specifics, which was probably appropriate at a Senate confirmation hearing. It is not immediately clear what he can and will actually do about any of those things other than to issue memos that few will read and fewer will remember two years from now. Nevertheless, what should he try to do?

In his blog for Federal Computer Week, http://fcw.com/Blogs...l-business.aspx, Steve Kelman suggested raising the micro-purchase threshold to $250,000 for limited purposes, in order to improve opportunities for “innovative” small businesses to get into the government market. That's right, the micro-purchase threshold. (Okay, stop cheering.) In what has to be the understatement of the week, he wrote: “There would be a few implementation issues that would have to be worked out.”

So what are my ideas about what the new Administrator should try to do? What things might he try to persuade Congress and agency managers to do? Well, choosing a few from a long list:

1. Restructure the contracting workforce to reflect the workload. Hire fewer contract specialists and more purchasing agents and procurement clerks, and create a new position: “acquisition data specialist” to do all that pesky data entry.

2. Establish a uniform standard of contracting officer selection, appointment, and appointment renewal. Set the standards high. We desperately need more competent people in that role. If we had more competent people we would not need so many laws and regulations.

3. Review and clarify small business law, policy, and programs and put the rules all in one place in the C.F.R. (and, yes, yes, increase opportunities for small businesses to get government contracts).

4. Change the protest system by either (preferably) eliminating the Court of Federal Claims as a protest forum or (second best) requiring protestors to choose one forum or the other and live with the result, prohibiting them from filing with the GAO and then going to the court if they lose.

5. Free the Department of the Defense from the phony “single, simplified, uniform” FAR System and allow it to publish its own acquisition regulation. Congress has written so many laws unique to DOD acquisition that it really has a separate system. The notion that we have a "single, simplified, uniform" system of acquisition regulation is absurd. Let's face facts. It would actually make life easier for everybody.

6. Remove FAR Subpart 8.4 and Part 13 from 48 CFR Chapter 1 (the FAR itself) and put them in separate chapters of their own. The idea is to give people conducting those kinds of acquisitions smaller regulations to cope with and to make it clear that they don’t have to worry about the rest of FAR and can simplify their processes.

7. Require GSA to establish a single source for the clauses in its Federal Supply Schedule contracts and to publish them in the Federal Register through the notice and public comment process. (A lot of GSA FSS COs have no idea where the clauses come from and cut and paste from old documents.)

8. Make the test program for commercial items (FAR Subpart 13.5) permanent.

That’s enough for one blog post. No point in getting carried away.

If Steve Kelman can propose raising the micro-purchase threshold to $250,000, why can’t I fantasize?

Bravissimo! A great list of fantasy.
Your writings, philosophies, and challenges to THINK are a big reason that I keep striving in this field. You are a scholar and a gentleman.
Very respectfully,
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Great ideas but I fear that the that persuading Congress, which is really persuading their legislative aides who have no idea whatsoever what Federal procurement/acquisition is all about, is a pipe dream. Why? Because it is these very same folks that have gotten us, in part, to where we are today with their attempts to make procurement/acquisition right sided.....dazed and confused!
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I'm a fan of #2. There are far too many incompetent CO's. I think the root cause of the incompetency though is that too many folks without procurement experience are brought in at too high of a level, promoted automatically if they're in a ladder position, and eventually become CO's without having any progressively complex procurement experience or varied procurement experience. At one time 1102's came in at the GS-05 level and worked their way up the promotion ladder. Now-a-days they come in off the street as GS-09s (I've seen some GS-11's too) in positions that go to a GS-12. They get promoted each year so within 3 years you have GS-12 Contract Specialists and who quickly become CO's. Unfortunately too many do not have a true respect and/or understanding of the responsibilities that come with the Warrant.

I'm on board with #6 also. There is nothing simplified about Simplified Acquisition Procedures anymore though. I think Part 13 should be re-titled.

Not on your list Vern but I have a Wish I'd like to add as #9. Require all CS's and CO's to have writing skills. There are requirements for 1102's to have at least 24 credits in Business but no affirmative requirement for any type of Writing course(s). Too many CS's and CO's simply cannot write.

I'm disagreeing with the Test Program becoming permanent, for now. I think it should be revamped with clearer procedures first. A lot of CS and CO's cannot explain when use of Test Program procedures is appropriate (or not). All they know is "commercial = test program = combined synopsis/solicitation Request for Quote (RFQ) because it's FAR 13, and then proceed to conduct the rest of the acquistion using the FAR 15 model.

Always enjoy reading what you have to say Vern. I'm with you on a competent acquisition workforce. Competent CO's will not need to carry a lawyer around in their back pocket.

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I like your proposed #9 very much. Consider it added to my list. I think it is crucially important.
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