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Reflections on Steve Kelman's Tenure at the Harvard Kennedy School

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By Dan Chenok

Last week, I had the honor of speaking at the retirement celebration for Steve Kelman, longtime Kennedy School Professor and globally leading government management expert, who I’ve been fortunate to know for over three decades.

The event was a remarkable tribute to Steve, who:   

* * * * *

  • changed the face of government procurement for the better, as outllined by Kennedy School Professor and event moderator Jeff Liebman;

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See the article from  IBM Center for The Business of Government

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I think Steve Kelman left office in 1997, 25 years ago. I suspect that most persons in today's acquisition workforce have no idea who he was.

He was appointed by President Clinton and participated actively in the reinvent government movement.

If you want to know what his impact was on contracting, think:

  1. evaluation of past performance
  2. performance-based acquisition (formerly, performance-based contracting)
  3. multiple-award task and delivery order contracts
  4. the FAR Part 15 Rewrite of 1997

He did not invent those things, but he aggressively promoted them, and was significantly responsible for embedding them in the contracting process. 

His best qualities as an OFPP administrator were intelligence, energy, and enthusiasm. He received good political support from the Clinton Administration. Although he had written a book about procurement, Procurement and Public Management: The Fear of Discretion and the Quality of Government Performance (1990), he'd had no hands on experience when he took office.

I have long said, and still believe, that he was the best OFPP Administrator we've ever had. However, he failed to promote deep thinking about service contracting and failed to develop sound service contracting policy and procedure.

Since his departure the OFPP's influence has greatly declined. His tenure was its heyday.

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