'Procurement goddess' Ustad dies at 50

'Procurement goddess' Ustad dies at 50

GSA official's common sense and dedication to public service helped advance acquisition reform

By Christopher J. Dorobek

GCN Staff

Ida M. Ustad, one of the architects of the government's information technology procurement reform, died last month after a long battle with cancer.

A memorial service for Ustad, who was 50, was held early this month in Takoma Park, Md.

Ustad, the deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy in the General Services Administration's Office of Governmentwide Policy, was widely respected for her dedication to public service and her buying expertise.

She was acknowledged last year at the GSA Acquisition Conference and given a plaque that read simply, 'Ida M. Ustad, Procurement Goddess.'

Reform pioneer

Ustad was among a handful of people responsible for drafting proposals that generated a series of legislative changes designed to unfetter agencies from moribund buying policies.

'We owe Ida a debt of gratitude that we can never repay,' said James A. Williams, deputy assistant commissioner for procurement at the IRS. In 1993, Ustad and Williams led the National Performance Review team whose proposals became the framework for procurement reform.

'She was very enthusiastic about change ,and she had the know-how to take an idea from a concept and turn it into reality,' Williams said.

'Ida was one of the finest public servants I have ever met,' said G. Martin Wagner, associate administrator for governmentwide policy at GSA. 'A lot of the acquisition reforms that make the government more effective are a direct result of her efforts.'

Ustad focused on streamlining the complex government buying process so agencies could be more effective, said Steven Kelman, a professor of public management at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Ustad's work affected a passel of procurement laws, including the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act of 1994, the Federal Acquisition Reform Act of 1996 and the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996.

'We were just fortunate to be in the right place, with the backing of the vice president, to make procurement reform happen,' Williams said. 'Fortunately, people like Ida, Steve [Kelman] and the vice president came together to make it happen.'

Ustad was respected in industry as well as in the government, Kelman said.

He recalled that she was one of the first people he met in 1993 while working with NPR, now known as the National Partnership for Reinventing Government.

Throughout her career, Ustad's aim was to improve the procurement process, Kelman said.

Ustad exemplified the faceless, nameless government bureaucrat that 'nobody outside of Washington appreciates, but she was committed to doing the best for the public,' Kelman said.

Recognizing a strong advocate of IT, the OFPP staff asked Ustad to manage the Acquisition Reform Network. Under her leadership, ARNet became the government's initial hub for using the Internet as an acquisition tool.

The South Dakota native started her GSA career in 1971 as a clerical assistant in Kansas City, Mo. She moved up the ranks in the agency, becoming chief of the Office of Acquisition Policy in 1994.

Lasting influence

GSA is establishing an award for acquisition excellence in Ustad's name, Wagner said.

It will be given annually to a federal employee who most exemplifies Ustad's commonsense approach to acquisition.

'That way she can continue to improve the government after she is gone, and we can be reminded of what it was like when she was around,' Wagner said.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the American Cancer Society, 11331 Amherst Ave., Silver Spring, Md. 20902, or to the Children's Care Hospital and School, 2501 W. 26th St., Sioux Falls, S.D. 57105.

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