Lee to head Iraq buys

Coalitional Provisional Authority-Iraq Web site

Deidre Lee, the Pentagon's top procurement official, will join the Coalition Provisional Authority Oct. 14 to assist with reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

Lee will help craft the coalition office's policies for awarding contracts to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure and restore basic services. Lee announced her new job Oct. 7 at the Performance-Based Acquisitions conference in McLean, Va., sponsored by FCW Media Group.

"I'm going to go work in the back office to make sure we get the contracting done right," Lee said. "We hope to get Congressional support for the supplemental budget. We have to make sure people know what we're doing, how we're doing it and why."

Lee will work for the provisional authority "as long as it takes" before returning to her current position as director of Defense procurement, she said. Domenic Cipicchio, director of policy in Lee's office, will serve as acting director in her absence.

Steve Kelman, a Harvard University professor and administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy during the Clinton administration, said the choice marks a vote of confidence in Lee's ability from the Defense Department's senior political leadership.

"What's more is her choice is [an] excellent [one] from the government's perspective," Kelman said. "She brings exactly the right perspective and understands the traditional values of openness and competition."

Lee also understands the importance of performance-based procurement and having vendors provide what the government needs and not just follow the letter of the contract, Kelman said.

Lee will work with the authority for about six weeks to assess the situation. After that, she may stay until her services are no longer required or return to her job at DOD.

"I'm going to go [to the authority] first to assess the situation for about a month, through the end of November," she said. "I will try to make sure we understand what needs to be done. Then I'll either be invited to stay or not."

Regardless of how long she stays, Lee said she has every intention of returning to her job. In the meantime, she will oversee some reconstruction contracts to make sure the authority is spending the money "correctly and transparently."

The Bush administration recently requested $87 billion in supplemental funding, much of it earmarked for reconstruction.

Members of Congress, though, are concerned about contracts being awarded without adequate competition. Part of Lee's challenge is to find a procurement strategy that addresses congressional concerns while ensuring the timely delivery of products and services.

The authorities know there are many issues to navigate, and "they want to use the total suite of procurement tools," Lee said.

Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president at the Information Technology Association of America, said Lee faces "incredible challenges" in Iraq.

"It's going to take somebody with her level of expertise to set up a whole new procurement system from scratch," Grkavac said. "It's a great challenge and opportunity for her."

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