OFPP's Lee sets reform agenda

On the job only three weeks and still awaiting essentials like business cards, Deidre "Dee" Lee, the new director of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, wants to spend her 28-month term locking procurement reform firmly into place.

But Lee, whose appointment by President Clinton was confirmed by the Senate July 30, acknowledges that she has limited time to complete the hardest part of procurement reform.

"We've really seen it pop," Lee said of the progress of the broad reforms pushed through by her predecessor. "I feel like I have a lot to do in a short time."

In one of her first interviews since taking up residence in the OFPP director's office in the Old Executive Office Building, Lee said the implementation of procurement reform is inconsistent, with some organizations doing very well and others not yet picking up the ball.

"If you do a survey, you're going to find varying degrees of implementation," said Lee, who in her previous job as associate administrator for procurement at NASA managed all of the agency's procurement activities. "My real goal is to get out there and execute and implement."

Lee declined to give specifics or to gauge the level of implementation as a percentage, describing it instead as "spotty" and varying by agency, initiative and site. "It's all over the board, and [the percentages are] something I'd like to know. But I'm not able to say, for example, 'At the Army it's great, except for this aspect,' or any other specifics about other agencies," she said.

High on Lee's agenda are emphasizing past performance evaluations and encouraging procurement officers to adopt more business savvy.

Under new procurement rules, every contract worth more than $100,000 must go through a performance evaluation annually, and Lee does not want the information collected just for the sake of populating a database.

Self-examination offers an opportunity to "improve now and make sure we're making progress all the way up and down the chain," she said.

Lee also wants to encourage procurement officers to think of themselves as business brokers as opposed to "procurement processors" and shed the notion that all they need to do a good job is to become experts at following procedure.

To find the best deals, procurement specialists have to know how to use all the tools available to them, she said.

In its leadership role, OFPP will create an atmosphere in which bridges are easily formed to join people who have common goals that originate in a solid understanding of the agency's mission, Lee said. She plans to drive this home by relying on experience she gained under NASA Administrator Dan Goldin, a businessman who she said "recognized 'we better be good at acquisition.' "

Lee also plans to meet soon with chief information officers and other procurement executives throughout government, focusing the discussions on including the agency's mission in implementing acquisition changes and making sure the question "How do we support the end goal?" is foremost in the minds of procurement officials, she said.

Lee's other plans include continuing the Front-Line Procurement Professionals Forum, a group established by her predecessor, Steven Kelman, that meets regularly with the director. She said she would like to create a similar forum for midlevel managers but would center it on case studies of procurement projects that could be dissected and used as a reference for best practices.

She also wants to revitalize the Federal Procurement Council, which she said has not been as active as the CIO Council and CFO Council. The FPC brings together procurement officials from large agencies and smaller organizations to cooperate on common goals.

Another new tool that Lee hopes to promote is electronic commerce, which she said has arrived as a procurement medium and could be developed into a communication backbone that would be ready for service as soon as encryption concerns are worked out. It would provide a tremendous service to vendors, especially small companies that could use it to find multiple opportunities easily across the government.

As Lee makes her introductions among OFPP's estimated 20 employees, she said she is pleased by the general attitude, citing a sign at the desk of one employee that reads, "What have I done for a contracting officer today?"

"That," Lee said, "is what we should be."

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