Lee back as defense procurement chief

Less than three months after joining the Coalition Provisional Authority to help direct contracts to be awarded for rebuilding Iraq, Deidre Lee will return to her position as the Defense Department's top procurement official.

Pentagon spokeswoman Cheryl Irwin confirmed today that Lee will go back to her old job, director of defense procurement, "within the next few weeks." Lee joined the Iraqi authority in October to help craft policy and direct the billions of dollars pouring into that country for rebuilding.

The reasons for her quick return were not immediately clear. At the time of her departure, Lee vowed to work for the provisional authority "as long as it takes." But she also said she would take about six weeks to evaluate the situation before a decision would be made on staying with the CPA or going back to her procurement position in the Pentagon.

"I'm going to go [to the authority] first to assess the situation for about a month, through the end of November," Lee said Oct. 7. "I will try to make sure we understand what needs to be done. Then I'll either be invited to stay or not."

As recently as Dec. 10, Lee made no indication that she would be leaving the Iraqi authority. Speaking at the National Press Club Dec. 10, Lee said her role now is to "determine the best way to employ those funds [$87 billion approved by Congress] for the betterment of Iraq."

Irwin said she didn't know if Lee's return was at her own decision or that of the powers-that-be within the authority.

Shortly after Lee announced her hiatus, 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 from DOD's senior political leadership in Lee's ability.

"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."

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