OMB revives forum on contracting issues

Procurement policy-makers locked inside the Office of Management and Budget say they need to hear more from workers stationed on the front lines of government acquisition.

OMB officials will reestablish a "Frontline Forum" set to meet twice a year with "contracting officers, not the stuffed shirts from the chief acquisition council," said David Safavian, administrator of OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy. The forum was established when Steve Kelman led OFPP during the Clinton administration.

"We need to understand how the systems work down in the field," Safavian said earlier this month during the Federal Acquisition Conference and Exposition in Washington, D.C.

The time is ripe for recreating that direct link between policy-makers and policy enablers, said Kelman, a Harvard University professor and Federal Computer Week columnist."This is a very trying time for the contracting community, which is understaffed and is being subject to a lot of process and bureaucracy-oriented procedures that very much threaten to turn them back into being bureaucrats."

The point of the forum is to spread innovation that comes "not from the OFPP leadership in Washington, but from their contracting colleagues," Kelman said. In the forum's previous incarnation, contracting staff — not supervisors — from inside and outside the Beltway met with OMB staff to give presentations and submit feedback on proposed policy changes. The forum was "a sounding board for ideas we were thinking of but hadn't necessarily announced yet," Kelman said.

"We would tell them what we would see as obstacles or things we felt might affect the procurement process," said Liz Scott, a forum member for about three years. Then a Federal Technology Service contracting officer stationed in Texas, Scott said she was able to bring back ideas she heard during forum meetings. Because of her involvement in the forum, Scott also testified in 1995 before a joint hearing of the Government

Reform and Oversight and National Security committees on the then-proposed Clinger-Cohen Act.

The re-established forum will benefit the private sector, Scott said, now a government contract counsel for Siemens USA. Federal contracting officers "hear our problems and complaints on a daily basis, and they will be able to take those forward" to the open ears of OFPP officials, she said.

The Bush administration disbanded the forum in 2001. "I think most agencies probably didn't pick up some forms of communication from the previous administration," said Angela Styles, Safavian's predecessor. "It wasn't one thing or another thing. I just chose to communicate in a different way."

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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