So long, happy warrior
Few come to mind who have had a more positive impact than Steve Kelman. As he returns
to his job as professor at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, the outgoing
administrator of the once-sleepy Office of Federal Procurement Policy can take
satisfaction in having initiated a minor revolution.
Kelman presided over the greater use of vendors' past performance in making awards, an
increase in oral presentations and government-vendor communications, and the option of
doing early down-selects to make vendor evaluations more manageable. He gave political and
intellectual cover to the General Services Administration's successful reinvention of its
Multiple-Award Schedule program.
Government managers can now more easily buy what they need to get the job done. The
procurement culture has been turned upside down.
Kelman was helped by timing. He arrived in Washington at the right moment--between the
National Performance Review and a sea change in Congress on procurement and information
technology reform. Still, he brought personal qualities that let him capitalize handsomely
on the moment.
For one, he was involved in the details. He worked closely with procurement shops
throughout government, as well as with his own permanent staff. He expressed trust in
federal employees, and they believed him. This helped sell his plan to those who have to
carry it out.
Second, Kelman kept all parties in the loop. He cultivated the press and used the
Industry Advisory Council and other trade and government groups shrewdly to both shape and
advance his agenda.
Third, Kelman understood the dramatic gesture. In the Old Executive Office Building's
ornate Indian Treaty Room, he staged pledge-signing ceremonies in which buying officials
promised in writing to use past performance and open communications with vendors.
Most important, Kelman's enthusiasm seemed to be driven not by a desire for
selfaggrandizement, but by an unforced, almost corny desire to make government work
better. He has integrity. The antithesis of a slick Beltway operator, the modest Kelman is
more the professor turned happy warrior.
Harvard's gain is Washington's loss.