Dee Lee: She’s stepping down after stepping up

It takes a certain kind of person to take a job overseeing an agency’s acquisition, human resources, information technology and facilities management after its shortcomings and woes had made national headlines and been fodder for late-night comics for years.

The opportunity to help turn around the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the Hurricane Katrina disaster would have sent most people running. However, in the fall of 2006, that challenge seemed like a golden opportunity to Deidre Lee.

Now, some 15 months after her appointment as FEMA’s director of management and chief acquisition officer, Lee is stepping down, ending a career in the federal government that spanned more than three decades and several federal agencies.

Lee said she often jokes with her friends that she has been promoted to the GS-13 pay grade several times because she has changed agencies so many times. But the native Oklahoman added that such lateral moves are necessary to get a new experience, take on a new challenge and become well-rounded.

During her career, Lee was an associate administrator at NASA, head of procurement and acquisition policy at the Defense Department, assistant commissioner of integrated technology services at the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service, and administrator of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Lee said some of her most memorable moments occurred when she went to Iraq while working at DOD and while working on procuring the replacement for NASA’s Challenger spacecraft, which exploded shortly after takeoff in 1986.

Lee’s varied career gave her a special insight into federal procurement. “I worked with her for many years and think her background is somewhat unique in that she has been at NASA, DOD, OMB, GSA and now DHS,” said Robert Burton, deputy administrator of OFPP.  “Someone who has been at those major procurement organizations is fairly rare, and because she had such broad experiences, she had perspective so many didn’t have.”

Jonathan Aronie, an attorney who represents major government contractors and is also a Federal Computer Week columnist, said Lee’s attitude has meant that his clients have not always heard what they wanted from Lee, but they got a fair hearing.

“They always got an ear and a fair response as opposed to a knee-jerk reaction,” Aronie said.

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, said that when he worked with Lee while she was at OFPP and DOD, he was struck by her straightforward, honest approach and her commitment to getting the job done.

“The one thing about Dee, in all of her engagement with the outside folks, her ultimate goal was what was best for the government,” he said.

Soloway, also a friend of Lee, said he is impressed with her ability to engage everyone, from the average employee to the most senior leaders.

Jason Miller contributed to this story.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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