Safavian stresses human capital, competitive sourcing

If confirmed as the new procurement policy chief, David Safavian would focus on recruiting and training a skilled acquisition workforce and ensuring that competitive sourcing is transparent and fair, he told lawmakers today.

Safavian testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on his nomination as the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget. He is currently the chief of staff for the General Services Administration.

"It's a difficult area for recruiting; it's a difficult area for retention," Safavian told lawmakers about addressing human capital needs. "We seem to be losing more folks than we're bringing in."

Safavian noted that over the next five years, 40 percent of the federal workforce is eligible for retirement, and hiring and keeping skilled contract officers is a particular challenge. Safavian plans to establish a common training curriculum for contracting officers, revise certification requirements for the contracting workforce and create a more formalized career path, according to his written responses submitted to the committee.

Competitive sourcing also emerged as a key focus for Safavian. He told lawmakers he plans to implement a database for competitive sourcing information "so that we can get past anecdotes and understand the real impact competitive sourcing has on agencies, employees, Congress and the taxpayers," he said. "This database will be a useful tool for federal managers, and for you all to use as well, to assess the performance of this initiative."

Responding to Committee Chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins' (R-Maine) questions on whether federal employees should be able protest adverse decisions from a competitive sourcing study, Safavian said federal employees and private-sector employees should have the same rights.

"We need to have parallel mechanisms for appeal," he told Collins. "How we implement that — the devil is always in the details. We want to make sure not to have multiple appeals."

Safavian said that overall competitive sourcing is a good initiative that may need some tweaking.

"I do believe that competitive sourcing improves the way operations are running the federal government," he said. "At the end of the day, using competitive sourcing as a tool makes great sense."

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) cautioned Safavian to look at the initiative beyond the concept and make sure it is implemented correctly. "I hope you'll look at this from a broader perspective [rather] than just a philosophical agenda," he said.

A third priority Safavian outlined was his intent to make contracting easier for small businesses. He noted that during his time at GSA, the agency upgraded the Web site to include more information for vendors, held monthly training seminars across the country to educate small business owners on the contracting process and partnered with local chambers of commerce to encourage small-business contracting.

"These are great first steps, but at the end of the day, if the acquisition officer is not sensitive to these targets and goals [for small business involvement], we're not going to reach these targets and goals," Safavian said.

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