Editorial: Choose Burton, choose soon

Let's not beat around the bush: Robert Burton, associate administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, should be the new OFPP administrator. And the sooner it happens, the better it is for everyone.

Burton's boss, David Safavian, resigned last month before he was arrested on corruption charges stemming from his days as the General Services Administration's chief of staff.

This unexpected turn of events could prove to be a double-whammy for the procurement community. For starters, as one acquisition expert said last week, charges of ethics violations against the government's top procurement official invite even more congressional oversight and give new fodder to critics who want to roll back reform efforts.

Many reform initiatives hinge on giving some slack to contracting officials so they can exercise good judgment and embrace innovation. And that slack could be quickly lost.

Worse yet, the OFPP administrator should be the one leading the effort to strike the right balance of flexibility and accountability. Having lost its champion, the procurement workforce is more vulnerable than ever to individuals with well-intentioned but ill-conceived ideas for solving problems they don't fully understand.

President Bush could avert such problems by appointing Burton as Safavian's replacement. Burton, who was named associate administrator several years ago, has won the respect of many people on Capitol Hill for his knowledge of federal procurement issues. With his experience and reputation, Burton could quickly restore some stability and credibility to OFPP.

Burton also would provide continuity when it comes to developing and enforcing policies in areas such as outsourcing, small-business contracting and emergency procurements. Continuity is a must because those and other issues remain in flux, and only three years remain until the next presidential election. It would be difficult for an outside appointee to master the material in time to have any meaningful impact.

Clearly, between natural disasters and Supreme Court vacancies, Congress and Bush administration officials are not likely to make the OFPP job their first priority. But then again, picking Burton as OFPP administrator would appear to be one of the easier decisions they could make.

— John S. Monroe

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