OFPP needs to move forward, inspire others

In naming a candidate for administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at
the Office of Management and Budget, the Clinton administration appropriately focused on
finding a candidate to improve the government’s procurement process.

Former OFPP administrator Steve Kelman moved the office ahead with such speed and skill
that he attained near-mythical status. But he’s been gone more than a year.

One could reasonably expect that an OFPP successor would have been confirmed and be
hard at work by now. Regrettably, that is not the case.

We need strong leadership at OFPP—both to get the agency itself moving and to
spark others throughout the government to take a leadership position in carrying out the
buying revolution.

Kelman took the necessary steps in launching procurement reform and etching it into the
rule books.

He succeeded in part because he’s a smart cookie and knew how to pull the right
levers. He had good human relations skills and tried never to surprise anyone. Moreover,
he knew what he wanted to accomplish before moving into the Old Executive Office Building.

But Kelman also had the luck of raising his kite when the wind was blowing in the right
direction. Congress itself was more than willing to go along with the
administration’s proposals and get busy passing two major procurement reform bills.

Reforms were already in place at the Defense Department. Industry was willing, even
clamoring, for reform. And agency executives were responsive to the need for the reforms
and had the ability to lead internally.

Nevertheless, Kelman left OFPP with some unfinished business. Much of it could be
characterized as the backfill operations that lack the glamour of his frontline
maneuvering. This legacy of uncompleted actions must be addressed by his successor.

What should the agenda of the next OFPP administrator be? In my humble opinion, three
primary elements should comprise this agenda: training, leadership and vision.

Who could argue against training as the first requisite of effective performance?
Procurement reform drastically changed the environment of government and its relations
with vendors, and it had enormous impact on industry as well. Even the experts are no
longer expert. But more training is not in itself enough.

OFPP must also ensure that training established to implement the intent of reform is
effective and that the right people get it. Federal managers especially should receive
this training.

One contracting officer recently shared with me that although she knew what the revised
Federal Acquisition Regulation and other recent legislative reforms required her to do,
she was not inclined to go against her supervisor who insisted that the old way was less

We hear this refrain often: Old Joe has always done it that way, and he’s not
going to change now.

Training is effective when the people who receive it change their methods to match the
content of the training course. How else does any manager know that trained staff will be
capable of effective performance?

Leadership was abundant for the several years of procurement reform. For many reasons,
some of which are unclear, the leadership has disappeared.

For OFPP, training,
leadership and vision are key.

Kelman, with his persuasive style, developed policy. Implementation requires broader
leadership. Is the Chief Information Officer Council the source of the leadership? I
question whether, as a group, it has the power and record of effectiveness that’s
needed to carry on the reform.

There’s no question these leaders have been busy. The question is whether they
have been effective. Frankly, some have, and some haven’t. As a council, maybe
it’s too early to judge. Clearly, though, without effective leadership at the
administrator level, an OFPP attempting to address the implementation of reforms already
set in motion will fail.

The vision of government leaders before the reformers came to town was
reactive—perhaps because of how sorry the state of procurement was.

Their main question was, "How can we better perform what we are already
doing?" The new vision needs to be proactive and progressive. Leaders now must ask,
when it comes to buying information technology, what should government be doing.

Three of three federal
executives I talked to said their EC strategy was to stay put until the pioneers
demonstrated success.

And what should we be doing? It’s clear to me that further implementation of
reform will focus on electronic commerce. EC is larger than procurement, though. It
encompasses the whole idea of online government, doing not just commercial transactions
but many forms of interaction electronically. Procurement is a small piece of this general
fabric, but if procurement leadership lacks the vision of how it weaves into that fabric,
procurement reform will progress no further.

One need not search far in the trade press and agency documentation to find references
to EC. Outside some electronic data interchange initiatives, however, EC doesn’t seem
to have gotten beyond the Federal Acquisition Network, credit card purchasing and
electronic shopping malls. But EC is really considerably more than these, and we need the
broader vision to let us plan for it.

Here again, three of three federal executives I talked with recently stated that their
focus on EC was to stay put until the pioneers demonstrated success. My question is, where
are the pioneers?

I suspect that so much attention on commercial-style purchasing has caused agency
planners to believe that 100 percent commercial thinking is appropriate for government.

The agenda of the new OFPP administrator—when one is finally confirmed—should
encompass training, vision and leadership. Of utmost importance is leadership.

Without drivers, we cannot move government programs purposefully beyond the status quo.

Robert Deller is president of Market Access International Inc., a market research,
sales and support company in Chevy Chase, Md. His e-mail address is bdeller@markess.com.

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