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50 Years of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy


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The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) turns 50 in August of this year.

https://www.nextgov.com/acquisition/2024/05/white-house-procurement-office-marks-50-years/396583/

According to the House/Senate legislative conference report about the creation of OFPP, the Congressional objectives were:

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It is declared to be the policy of Congress to promote economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in the procurement of property and services by and for the executive branch of the Federal Government by-

(1) establishing policies, procedures, and practices which will require the Government to acquire property and services of the requisite quality and within the time needed at the lowest reasonable cost, utilizing competitive procurement methods to the maximum extent practicable;

(2) improving the quality, efficiency, economy, and performance of Government procurement organizations and personnel;

(3) avoiding or eliminating unnecessary overlapping or duplication of procurement and related activities;

(4) avoiding or eliminating unnecessary or redundant requirements placed on contractor and Federal procurement officials;

(5) identifying gaps, omissions, or inconsistencies in procurement laws, regulations, and directives and in other laws, regulations, and directives, relating to or affecting procurement;

(6) achieving greater uniformity and simplicity, whenever appropriate, in procurement procedures;

(7) coordinating procurement policies and programs of the several departments and agencies;

(8) minimizing possible disruptive effects of Government procurement on particular

industries, areas, or occupations;

(9) improving understanding of Government procurement laws and policies within the Government and by organizations and individuals doing business with the Government;

(10) promoting fair dealing and equitable relationships among the parties in Government contracting; and

(11) otherwise promoting economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in Government procurement organizations and operations.

 

Some questions:

  1. Do you think those Congressional objectives have been met?
  2. What does FAR say about OFPP's role in the making of Federal procurement policy?
  3. How much do you know about OFPP? If a new contract specialist asked you about it, what would you say?
  4. How many OFPP administrators could you name without doing any research?
  5. Without doing any research, what is the name of the current administrator?
  6. What's was the last announcement or pronouncement you read from OFPP?
  7. Do you think OFPP has played a large or important role in the conduct of "procurement"?
  8. If OFPP went away tomorrow, would its disappearance have an significant effect on procurement policy? Procurement operations?
  9. Would its disappearance make a difference in the way you think or act on the job?
  10. Should Congress continue to fund OFPP or should it let OFPP die a quiet death?
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3 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Some questions:

  1. Do you think those Congressional objectives have been met?
  2. What does FAR say about OFPP's role in the making of Federal procurement policy?
  3. How much do you know about OFPP? If a new contract specialist asked you about it, what would you say?
  4. How many OFPP administrators could you name without doing any research?
  5. Without doing any research, what is the name of the current administrator?
  6. What's was the last announcement or pronouncement you read from OFPP?
  7. Do you think OFPP has played a large or important role in the conduct of "procurement"?
  8. If OFPP went away tomorrow, would its disappearance have an significant effect on procurement policy? Procurement operations?
  9. Would its disappearance make a difference in the way you think or act on the job?
  10. Should Congress continue to fund OFPP or should it let OFPP die a quiet death?

My answers, from someone who is not a government contracting officer:

  1. No. Not even close.
  2. The FAR seems to envision OFPP as the originator of multiple "policy letters" that establish parameters for acceptable contract actions. My sense is that many/most/all of those Policy Letters are quite old.
  3. I know a bit about the theory of what it should do. I know where it fits in the Executive Branch org structure.
  4. Without doing any research, I could name three.
  5. Ain't none.
  6. Mythbusting
  7. Yes, back in the 90's. Not since then.
  8. Policy? No. Operations? Yes. Because of the CAS Board.
  9. Yes, because of the CAS Board.
  10. Congress can kill OFPP but then we need to restore the CAS Board to its previous independent status.
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Vern:

I happened upon a hearing from May 1979 on H. R. 3763, to amend the Office of Federal Procurement Policy Act.  I assume the Bill went nowhere but it gave Congressman Jack Brooks, one of the Major Players in government contracting, a chance to sound off.  

At the time of the Hearing, OFPP was trying to consolidate the FAR.  That was a mess but it was finally done.   OFPP also was trying to follow up on the Commission on Government Procurement's many recommendations.  GAO issued several reports following up on whether OFPP was following up on them.  Those efforts finally died a quiet death.

I copied an excerpt from that hearing showing one low prority issue and how it was handled.    For those who don't know, Elmer Staats was the Comptroller General of the United States.

 

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Mr. Jack Brooks:  There are times when Congress does not wait for reports from the executive branch to act on correcting deficiencies in agency programs. Such was the case when the conference report covering OFPP’s fiscal year 1979 budget directive that the Federal Acquisition Institute, created by OFPP under the management of DOD, be moved from the Defense Department back to the OMB. The basis of this direction was the belief, the conviction, that the location of the Institute in the DOD had greatly reduced its effectiveness as a Government-wide institution. As you know, General, this congressional directive is being ignored by the executive agencies. The Defense Department continues to be the Federal Acquisition Institutes’ executive agent.

What is your assessment of the effectiveness of this Institute in terms of its primary functions of procurement, research, and education?

Mr. Elmer Staats:  I think that Congressman Horton would support me in the view of the Commission. We had very extensive discussions on the need for a strong training program. One of the ways that you get better performance, lower cost in the goods and materials, and systems that the Government procures is by having better trained people. There is a lot that can be learned from the private sector on how to buy and how to manage materials and equipment purchased. We have been disappointed with what we consider to be a fairly low priority which has been established for the Federal Acquisition Institute. It is located down at Cameron Station, which is not a very good location. It is unclear as to whether it is going to have funds from year to year.

It is very difficult to recruit good staff. The tendency has been to bring staff in almost entirely out of the Defense Department.  We would like to see its status elevated. We would like to see it much more involved with the educational community. There have been some recent efforts along those lines. I do not want to be completely negative. But, thus far, it has had a too low priority. Perhaps one thing that could be done would be to—instead of having the Defense Department as the executive agent, it might be done in conjunction with an educational institution that has a strong background in the field of public management and business management. That is a possibility that might have some promise. It needs to be given a Government-wide status rather than, apparently, a status which is more identified with the Defense Department.

 

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12 hours ago, bob7947 said:

At the time of the Hearing, OFPP was trying to consolidate the FAR.  That was a mess but it was finally done.

Bob, by “consolidate the FAR, are you referring to development of a “Federal Acquisition Regulation” that would consolidate the numerous individual agency procurement regulations?   I remember that the initial FAR was finalized or published sometime in 1983 for implementation/adoption in 1984.

I found several references to the Commission on Government Procurement, including “Recommendations of the Commission on Government Procurement- A Final Assessment to Congress by the GAO” Call Number: JK1673 .U54 1979 on aLibrary of Congress Catalog web search page. However, I apparently have to be an “account holder” to request a copy or view it.  Is there somewhere to view or download this report? 
 

https://guides.loc.gov/federal-government-contracting/understand-past

https://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/searchBasic
 

https://catalog.loc.gov/vwebv/search?searchCode=AUTH%40&searchArg=Recommendations+of+the+commission+on+government+procurement+&searchType=1&limitTo=none&fromYear=&toYear=&limitTo=LOCA%3Dall&limitTo=PLAC%3Dall&limitTo=TYPE%3Dall&limitTo=LANG%3Dall&recCount=25

sorry- my search results aren’t displayed in the links above. 

Edited by joel hoffman
Changed “committee” to “commision” and added “report .to Congress
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@bob7947I have the complete legislative history of the 1979 OFPP reauthorization legislation, including the House and Senate bills and the hearings. . The Senate bill was the one that passed. The final legislation, Office of Federal Procurement Policy Act Amendments of 1979 P.L. 96-83 (1979), made no mention of the Federal Acquisition Institute. Here is President Carter's signing statement:

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I have this day signed S. 756, a bill which authorizes appropriations for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy for fiscal years 1980 through 1983. In addition to its other provisions, the legislation clarifies the authority of the Administrator for Federal Procurement Policy to issue policy directives for improving the supply systems and processes of the executive branch. The legislation also calls for the development of a proposal for a Uniform Procurement System to be submitted to the Congress within 1 year. This will serve as successor to the National Supply System project, which I approved August 9, 1979.

The "Uniform Procurement System" was to be the FAR, which, as of this morning, when FAC 2024-05 took effect, is 2,018 pages long in the official pdf version downloaded from Acquisition.gov.

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The original objectives and Congressional intent for OFPP never materialized.  It got off to a somewhat promising start though.  Al Burman as the first Administrator did a remote video speech because he couldn’t make the 50th celebration.  He mentioned several initiatives like use of past performance in source selection and issuing detailed clarifications on inherently government functions.  But except for Steve Kelman’s tenure, other Administrators annd OFPP overall accomplished little over the following decades.

There’s no meaningful and realistic purpose for OFPP now unless there’s sudden shift in priorities.  It’s sad to see President Biden’s message on the OFPP celebration that his two accomplishments were strengthening use of Buy American Act and promoting contracting with small disadvantaged firms.  Nothing about making the acquisition more effective and responsive.  So why continue with an office?

 

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2 hours ago, Vern Edwards said:

Al Burman was not the first administrator. Not even close. There were five before him.

True.  My error.  I was just trusting my memory and didn’t look it up.  

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Quote

Bob, by “consolidate the FAR, are you referring to development of a “Federal Acquisition Regulation” that would consolidate the numerous individual agency procurement regulations?  

Joel:

No.  It was an effort to fuse the Defense Acquisition Regulation (DAR) with the Federal Procurement Regulation (FPR).  I remember checking similar parts of the 2 regulations and commenting on how OFPP had put the two together.  Today, the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) may be larger than the FAR. 

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One thing I see as severely needed is a governmentwide acquisition knowledge management practice.  Lots of good things are done by individual offices but aren’t widely disseminated.  On the flip side, lots of less than successful activities take place too.  There needs to be a way to capture what works and what doesn’t, lessons learned, and best practices.  That’s where OFPP comes it by developing a knowledge management system.  It could include a repository of documents which OFPP and users could rate and comment on.  It could be open for acquisition personnel to share experiences and guides for others to follow.

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"(d) The functions of the Administrator shall include—

  • "(1) reviewing the recommendations of the Commission on Government Procurement to determine those recommendations that should be completed, amended, or rejected, and to propose the priority and schedules for completing the remaining recommendations;
  • "(2) developing a system of simplified and uniform procurement policies, regulations, procedures, and forms;
  • "(3) establishing criteria and procedures for an effective and timely method of soliciting the viewpoints of interested parties in the development of procurement policies, regulations, procedures, and forms;
  • "(4) promoting and conducting research in procurement policies, regulations, procedures, and forms, through the Federal Acquisition Institute, which shall be located within the Office and directed by the Administrator;

Vern:

I did a search for the word acquisition in Public Law 96-83 and found the above.  Apparently, Congress decided to move FAI to OFPP and directed by the Administrator, OFPP.

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Bob,

I'm working on an article about how OFPP got into a fight with the Department of Labor in 1976-77 over which of them controlled policy regarding application of the Service Contract Act. Congress saw OFPP as attempting a coup. OFPP ultimately lost. It was quite a flap.

Once upon a time OFPP was a big deal. It's story is one of decline in prestige and influence over time. Steve Kelman's tenure was its zenith. It's been downhill ever since Kelman left. What's not clear to me is why that has been the case, but I think DOD, GSA, and NASA never did like the idea of an OFPP.

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