It's the career feds who keep the trains running

Stephen M. Ryan

President Bush had to select his cabinet members at a compressed pace because of delays stemming from the election protest.

Many of his subcabinet choices, such as administrator of the General Services Administration and others who will directly impact procurement policy, are yet to be decided.

In the meantime, I think it's time to remember the senior career civil servants who occupy key policy positions. As the Clinton political wave ebbs and the Bush wave breaks ashore, it is those career employees who have critical roles in making sure the new administration's proposals mesh with government reality.

Deidre Lee, the Defense Department's procurement director, holds perhaps the most important career position in federal procurement policy. It is notable that the largely male-led Defense procurement bureaucracy has had its rules made by two women: Eleanor Spector, who held the post for many years, and now Lee.

Lee brings considerable experience to the job. She was administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, following the difficult-to-follow act of Steve Kelman. Before that, she was a contracting officer and held the top procurement post at NASA.

Each assignment has given Lee unusual empathy for the grinding duties of contracting professionals. She has considerable credibility in seeking changes that will benefit the acquisition process.

Lee has quietly but firmly taken on some thankless and difficult roles. An example of the former'one that Kelman avoided'is dealing with Federal Prison Industries, a tar baby of federal procurement.

Federal Prison Industries runs factories inside federal prisons, from which it sells $600 million worth of goods and services under an antiquated process that imposes procurement preferences for these prison-made goods on agencies. Some agencies and plenty of vendors object to FPI's special status.

Defense is FPI's biggest customer. Lee has taken the DOD slot on the FPI board of directors to see that her agency is not shortchanged.

As a person, Lee has a high energy level and a welcome lack of cynicism. As an example of professionalism, Lee has no peer.

Another noteworthy federal veteran is Richard Hopf, director of the Energy Department's Procurement and Assistance Management Office. He, too, has ample government experience, having held the top procurement policy post at GSA before moving to Energy.

Hopf was part of a team of public servants who fundamentally changed the Federal Supply Service, albeit under the administrative policy cover of former GSA administrator David Barram.

As the need for procurement reform of any sort is considered, it is worth remembering that lots of career federal executives can provide their expertise.

Stephen M. Ryan is a partner in the Washington law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips. He has long experience in federal information technology issues. E-mail him at [email protected].


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