Profile: Straight shooter
- By Matthew French
- Mar 09, 2003
When it comes to navigating the somewhat esoteric world of federal contracting, Deidre Lee, director of Defense procurement and acquisition policy at the Defense Department, can empathize.
Lee started in the trenches as a DOD procurement officer, and having been on the receiving end of policy letters, she knows firsthand the reaction they can solicit.
"When I was in the field and I would get a policy letter from management, if I read it, I would laugh and ask if these people were crazy," she said. "They understood what they were doing, but I didn't."
Today, Lee tries to ensure the same thing doesn't happen now that she is the one issuing policy memos. She explains her reasoning to her employees, and even if they disagree, they understand why it was done.
On any given day, chances are Lee will not be in her office. She enjoys going out into the field to see what those in the procurement policy arena are doing.
"Much to a lot of peoples' chagrin, I just love to get out there," she said. "Hearing from the people who do this every day is the best way I can help improve policy."
Lee is known throughout DOD for her availability. She'll hand her card or e-mail address out to anyone who asks and will respond when presented with a problem or issue. She encourages employees and contracting officers to come to her with ideas, problems and issues — provided they also offer a solution.
When Lee first assumed a leadership role in defense procurement in 2000, she immediately saw some of the same problems that existed when she was a contracting officer 25 years earlier.
"The certification classes that contracting officers were taking were the exact same ones I had taken," she said. "To improve the way we do things, we really had to take a step back and look at the training, preparation and support we were giving to our contracting people."
Perhaps the biggest issue facing Lee today is Section 803, a policy developed in response to reports that many awards were being made based on only one bid. Congress set up procedures that, in effect, require DOD buyers to get three bids before placing orders for services under multiple-award contracts.
"[Section] 803 is very important because it helps advance the fundamental principle of competition, which gives us the opportunity to earn taxpayers' dollars," she said.
Lee wants to shift DOD away from what she describes as "Michael Jordan buying."
"If someone needs a basketball player and they want one specific person, they're going to solicit Michael Jordan, Dee Lee and you," she said. "The fact is that's not competition. [Section] 803 is helping to resolve this, and I'm disappointed in myself that we needed legislation to get this done."
Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said Lee has almost single-handedly opened the dialogue between her office and Congress.
"It has really helped in that Congress now has a much better understanding of what her office does," he said. "That's a big plus for DOD. She is exceptionally well regarded around Washington and all of the federal government and does yeoman's work."