Safavian's arrest risks delay in some federal procurement initiatives

The resignation and arrest of David Safavian has once again left the federal government's procurement system as a body without a head.

For the second time in three years'though under different circumstances'the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy has stepped down, leaving a host of major, potentially money-saving initiatives, such as SmartBuy, strategic sourcing, competitive sourcing and share-in-savings, without an acquisition sponsor.

Safavian abruptly resigned Sept. 16, after less than a year at OFPP, in the lengthening shadow of approaching Justice Department investigators. After leaving his position, the FBI arrested Safavian at his Alexandria, Va., home the following Monday on charges of obstructing a federal investigation and making false statements under oath.

Safavian is under investigation for his work while chief of staff at the General Services Administration, Justice said.

Safavian allegedly made false statements to both GSA's ethics officer and the agency's inspector general, and obstructed the IG's investigation.

While the criminal charges could change, Safavian is facing potentially five years in prison and undetermined monetary fines. He was released on bail last week.

An attempt to reach Safavian at home was unsuccessful.

Robert Burton, the deputy administrator for OFPP, is managing the office until a new or acting administrator is named. Burton spent more than a year as the acting administrator when Angela Styles left OFPP in Sept. 2003.

Safavian's departure will be felt across government, especially on IT issues, and gives federal acquisition another in a long list of black eyes over the past few years.

'Obviously, to have David leave over misconduct of this nature is troubling, to say the least,' said a government official who requested anonymity. 'Particularly in light of [the Air Force's] Darlene Druyun's downfall this year as well.

'As hard as we all try every day to prove to our stakeholders in Congress and to the American people that our acquisition workforce is trustworthy and dedicated to getting the best value for their tax dollars, the fall of icons in our system just reinforces folks' belief that we're all crooks and need more, not less, oversight.'

That oversight is coming from Congress, in provisions tucked into spending bills and investigations. The administration has managed to excise some of what they considered arduous measures, but experts said that without a politically appointed OFPP head, it becomes more difficult.

Safavian was not opposed to more stringent oversight, but he had said in previous interviews that it had to be the right kind, such as post-award audits under the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service.

Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington trade association, said issues such as reviving the use of post-award audits and guidance on when to use time-and-materials contracting could fall by the wayside as the administration focuses on its core issue, competing federal commercial jobs with the private sector.

IT initiatives that are procurement-heavy, such as the SmartBuy enterprise software initiative, could also be affected.

Safavian worked closely with Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for IT and E-Government, co-signing three memos in the past six months.

Allen said Burton did an admirable job as the acting OFPP administrator last time, knows the landscape very well and has the respect of the acquisition community.

'Where the office will suffer is from a lack of profile,' he said.

Allen said another area that could lose some support is the merging of non-GSA procurement assistance centers, such as the Interior Department's GovWorks. Safavian wanted to shut down these organizations or merge them with GSA.

It is unclear whether the administration will go through the confirmation process again or just name an acting administrator to serve out the final three years of President Bush's term.

When former Clinton administration OFPP administrator Deidre Lee returned to a career job, OMB just named an acting administrator for the final six months of the president's term.

Safavian's troubles began while serving as GSA's chief of staff from May 2002 to January 2004. He allegedly aided Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff in trying to acquire GSA-controlled property in and around the District of Columbia. The Justice Department said the lobbyist, who is not named in the affidavit against Safavian, went on a golf trip to Scotland with Safavian and others in August 2002.

Safavian told the GSA ethics office and the IG that Abramoff had no business with GSA prior to the August 2002 golf trip. But according to an affidavit filed by the FBI, Abramoff contacted Safavian by e-mail asking about GSA properties three weeks before the golf trip.

Justice is investigating whether Safavian concealed the fact that Abramoff had prior business with GSA before the golf trip, and that he was aiding Abramoff in his attempts to do business with GSA.

GSA spokeswoman MaryAlice Johnson would not comment on the matter, referring all calls to the Justice Department. Jack Lebo, GSA's inspector general, also would not comment, saying it was an ongoing investigation, and also referred all questions to Justice.

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