Marcia Madsen wields advisory power
Acquisition Advisory Panel leader will recommend changes to the status quo
The federal contracting community is closely observing the actions of a panel that will recommend changes to federal acquisition and contracting regulations. Marcia Madsen, a partner at Mayer Brown Rowe and Maw in Washington, D.C., leads the panel of 13 government contracting experts and attorneys. Madsen said the Acquisition Advisory Panel will soon submit more than 80 recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget and Congress.
OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy has already adopted several changes related to interagency and performance-based contracting that the Acquisition Advisory Panel will include among its recommendations. Robert Burton, OFPP’s associate administrator, said OFPP will focus its attention next year on the panel’s proposals.
Many people in the federal contracting community say the panel’s work could have a far-reaching effect on how industry interacts with federal agencies. For that reason, they have offered their views to the panel members.
“I think we heard from virtually every potentially interested corner of the community, including commercial companies that really are not government contractors,” Madsen said.
The Services Acquisition Reform Act of 2003 created the Acquisition Advisory Panel, whose purpose is to propose changes to acquisition laws, regulations and policies. The panel has reviewed commercial practices and performance-based and interagency contracting. Madsen said most of the panel’s recommendations would not require congressional legislation to implement.
Those proposals, which the panel has released in draft form, have stirred a storm in the government contracting community. Six industry groups announced in August that they opposed many of the panel’s draft proposals, which they said could erase a decade of procurement changes that they think have been beneficial.
Many in the federal contracting community agree that Madsen is well-qualified for her position as the panel’s chairwoman, and they say she is well-regarded. But “the positions she takes aren’t,” said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.
Several industry executives say Madsen was a controversial choice as chairwoman, but she laughed at that notion.
“I’ve tried to steer a very middle course,” she said. “I think there are folks out there who would have viewed the panel making any recommendations as undesirable. There are folks out there whose view is we didn’t go far enough.”
Madsen said she had to weigh whether to accept the panel’s leadership position.
“I was a little taken aback,” she said about the offer. “I’m a partner in a law firm. I have a busy practice. I have three small kids, so I had to think about it pretty hard.”
Madsen said she decided to accept the chairmanship, but she added that “there are days I wonder if I needed a psychiatrist.”
Burton said Madsen was a strong choice for leading the advisory panel. “When I met her, she was already a key player,” he said.
In her role as the panel’s leader, Madsen solicited a wide range of opinions from buyers, agencies and vendors, Burton said. More than 100 people testified before the panel. With her lawyer’s training, Madsen guided the panel members through a thicket of competing opinions, he added.
Madsen said the panel did its homework. “We wanted to make sure that our recommendations were balanced and that we had a 360-degree view of things.”
She added it is commonplace in government for panels to convene every few years to review acquisition policies and regulations, and such panels often uncover the same problems that previous panels tried to address. “The kinds of things the government is struggling with appear not to have changed that much,” she said.
Some industry leaders said they hesitated to describe Madsen as a power player, adding that they preferred to withhold judgment until the panel releases its final report. They want to see whether officials act on many of the recommendations.
“The potential influence is huge,” said Chris Jahn, president of the Contract Services Association, which represents service contractors. However, he added, Washington, D.C., “is all about results.”