Kundra aids search for procurement leader

Top IT official believes procurement policy must be flexible

Six months have passed since President Barack Obama took office, and the chair reserved for the leader of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy remains empty. Now Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, is helping the administration look for a suitable nominee.

Kundra is drawing on his information technology expertise and mandate to seek an OFPP administrator who will “recognize we can’t treat technology procurements in the same way we do buying buildings,” he said.

Jeffrey Zients, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, is the point man for the quest. Finding the next OFPP administrator has been a top priority for Zients since his Senate confirmation on June 19. No one has been nominated for the OFPP post, and there are few rumors about whom the candidates might be.

However, experts expressed surprise that CIO Kundra is so actively involved in the search.

Bob Woods, president of Topside Consulting and former commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Technology Service, said agencies conduct a broad array of procurements. Buying battleships and buying large quantities of paper are different kinds of procurements, and Kundra's involvement might signal an over-emphasis on IT, Woods said.

Nevertheless, Kundra has campaigned vigorously for simplifying the buying process. “Everyone in government shouldn’t have to have a Ph.D. in procurement,” he said. “Why is it so complex?”

During a discussion July 27 with reporters and editors from the 1105 Government Information Group, parent company of Federal Computer Week, Kundra said the government needs to do a better job of using technology to make the whole process easier.

Kundra has proposed creating a virtual storefront where agencies could quickly buy services, such as cloud computing. Although he said GSA’s Multiple Award Schedules program and GSA Advantage Web site have many benefits, he said there are even faster ways to work. Each time an agency wants to buy IT, it shouldn’t have to start a two-year procurement process, he said, adding that by the time the contract is awarded, the technology is outdated.

However, many experts say the process isn’t always that time-consuming.

Kundra said his intent is to make buying IT easier and more intuitive via his proposed virtual storefront, which would mirror systems in the commercial marketplace, such as Amazon.com and eBay.

That approach may not fly, say critics. “At some point, he’s going to have to come to terms with the fact that the government is built to be inefficient,” said one government official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Companies such as Amazon and eBay don’t contract with the government because they don’t want to have to abide by the government's rules, the official added.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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