Davis to propose acquisition 'chiefs'

The new chairman of the House Government Reform Committee said last week that he wants to create a position in every agency that would oversee information technology purchases agencywide in an attempt to control costs and create standard buying policies.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) told the Industry Advisory Council, a group of more than 400 IT contractors who advise the federal government on management and procurement policies, that he intends to propose creating a so-called acquisition chief. Davis said he plans to put the provision in the Services Acquisition Reform Act, which he introduced last year, but it failed to make it out of committee.

The acquisition chief would develop strategies to take advantage of an agency's buying power by centralizing purchasing and controlling how money is spent. Davis, considered one of Capitol Hill's foremost procurement experts, said many senior procurement officers lack the power to make their policies stick. Now, "we're stuck with...agencies going out and doing their own thing," he said.

Although most agencies currently have senior procurement officers, Davis' provision would upgrade the position significantly. Those in the jobs would be political appointees and have a much broader authority and focused role, according to David Marin, Davis' spokesman.

"We envision it as a high-level position filled by someone who can advise and assist the agency and other senior officials on all of an agency's acquisition activities," Marin said. He likened it to the Defense Department's undersecretary for acquisition technology and logistics, the position Pete Aldridge currently holds. The acquisition chief would make sure agency IT buys support agency missions.

Roger Baker, former chief information officer at the Commerce Department, said an acquisition chief is an important idea as government moves toward outsourcing much of its required work, a practice that will take years to achieve. "If you look at the endgame, how do we outsource the entire government?" he asked. "At that point, how do you control it?"

But the position also can support more mundane goals, such as lowering procurement costs.

Right now, he said it might not be a good idea to buy a Microsoft Corp. product for a single program, but it may save money and make it possible to share information agencywide if it is bought for the entire agency.

"Procurement executives could use more authority to control things and make them stick," Baker said. "We're really going to move to performance-based contracting. A procurement officer can make it a policy and program, but he can't make people lose their jobs if they don't do it."

SARA, which Davis plans to reintroduce soon, is designed to reform the antiquated business environment surrounding the government's acquisition functions. The chief acquisition officer would work to eliminate stand-alone systems and be a focal point for both day-to-day operations and strategic planning.

Davis said the legislation also would include a provision for a training course for acquisition professionals.

"My vision is a cadre of trained professional acquisition officers with the tools they need and relationships with customers," he said.

Several agencies already have an acquisition officer who develops policy, according to Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

"But from a policy standpoint, if you want to broaden the scope of what they do, not just policy but management, it could be very constructive," he said.

Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president of the Professional Services Council, said Congress has provided point people for other major functions, including chief financial and chief information officers.

"There is demonstrable evidence that those acquisition executives who are political appointees have considerably more clout and effectiveness in leading their agency activities," he said.

Marin said the legislation also calls for the creation of an advisory panel of acquisition experts to review current acquisition laws and regulations.

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