New team good news for procurement reinvention forces

The Clinton administration's new acquisition reform leadership team is coming into place. The president recently nominated Deidre "Dee" Lee, senior procurement executive at NASA, for administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Stan Soloway, a consultant for the Contract Services Association, has been tapped as the choice for deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition reform, the position previously held by Colleen Preston.

The appearance of new leadership is good news in itself. One of the most important conclusions I drew from my four years of federal service was that to make reform happen, leadership at the top and high energy on the front lines are both needed. Leaders cannot effect change by themselves. But the change-oriented folks on the front lines need the influence boost, the inspiration and sometimes the cover from above to be willing and able to take on the challenge of change.

But it's not just the new leadership that is good news for friends of good government in general and procurement reinvention in particular. These two new leaders are just what the doctor ordered as individuals and with complementary strengths as a team.

Lee exemplifies the outstanding talents and skills found in our federal career work force. Before her nomination for a Senate-confirmed position, Lee had worked her way from the bottom rung to the highest echelons of the federal career ladder. She started as a procurement clerk at Kadena Air Force Base on Okinawa, working on grounds-maintenance contracting (her most important job was buying snake abatement services). Lee moved with her military husband to Air Force bases throughout the United States, including a stint at Hanscom Air Force Base in my neighboring town of Bedford, Mass. She came to NASA when her then-husband went to work for Johnson Space Center, and she took over her current post in 1993.

Under Lee's leadership, NASA has been at the forefront of procurement innovation, including the movement to performance-based contracting, greater use of commercial off-the-shelf software, outsourcing and Internet-based procurement. She also has retained the loyalty of her troops despite major downsizing in the NASA procurement work force.

Lee is a straight-shooter and a determined, principled advocate of the interests of taxpayers and of a procurement system that delivers maximum value. Look for her to emphasize implementation on the ground and make innovations in the way the government does business. Expect to see her frequently on the front lines.

Soloway, a Boston native and an experienced film and TV producer, has been one of the leading industry lobbyists during legislative and regulatory efforts in procurement reform over the past few years. The association he works for— the Contract Services Association— represents a mix of small, medium and a few larger firms that operate military bases for the Defense Department. Base operations contracting has not always been at the forefront of acquisition reform at DOD, and some of the association's members were used to an adversarial, litigious mode of dealing with the government.

Soloway and the association's chief, Gary Engebretson, have acted as industry statesmen over the past few years, representing their members' concerns while also working to educate about the virtues of reform. Soloway supported the Federal Acquisition Regulation 15 rewrite and the Clinger-Cohen bill, and he played a key role last year helping to develop a sensible congressional policy regarding "contract bundling."

Soloway complements Lee's inside-the-system expertise with years of experience working Capitol Hill. Expect Soloway to be engaged in outsourcing issues. And expect him to work hard on Jacques Gansler's aggressive agenda for further acquisition reform at DOD, which will center on revolutionizing the logistics system and getting DOD more access to commercial production lines.

Kelman was the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy from 1993 to 1997. He is now Weatherhead Professor of Public Management at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

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