OFPP nominee outlines his priorities

Acquisition training and competitive sourcing are the government's top procurement priorities, David Safavian, the nominee to be administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, told lawmakers last week.

During his confirmation hearing, Safavian laid out his priorities for the first time since President Bush nominated him in November to replace Angela Styles, who left last fall.

If confirmed, Safavian testified that OFPP, a division of the Office of Management of Budget, would focus on recruiting and training a skilled acquisition workforce and ensuring that competitive sourcing is transparent and fair.

"It's a difficult area for

recruiting; it's a difficult area for retention," Safavian said of the acquisition workforce. "We seem to be losing more folks than we're bringing in."

Safavian noted that during the next five years, 40 percent of the federal workforce is eligible for retirement. Therefore, hiring and keeping skilled contract officers is a particular challenge, he said.

The Bush administration will create a common training curriculum for contracting officers, revise certification requirements for the contracting workforce and create a more formalized career path, according to Safavian's written responses submitted to the committee.

The needs of the acquisition workforce have not been a priority in recent years and have become more important with the passage of the Services Acquisition Reform Act (SARA) last year, experts said. Contracting work is an area in which the government should be able to compete for talent, but it requires an effective recruitment program, said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council.

"I think that's absolutely critical, and I think he deserves a lot of credit for identifying that," Soloway said.

Competitive sourcing also emerged as a key focus for Safavian. 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 told lawmakers.

Overall, competitive sourcing is a good initiative that may need some tweaking, Safavian said, such as giving federal employees the same rights as industry professionals to protest adverse competition decisions. Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) cautioned Safavian to look broadly at the competitive sourcing initiative to make sure it is implemented correctly.

Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition of Government Procurement, said one of Safavian's strengths, if confirmed, would be his ability to work well with Congress. As the chief of staff for Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah), Safavian gained expertise in lending a constructive voice to often heated procurement discussions.

"I think [Safavian] will bring a tremendous amount of sensitivity and understanding about where people who do not share the administration's position on outsourcing are coming from," Allen said.

Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the Enterprise Solutions Division of the Information Technology Association of America, agreed that his experience may give him insight on when to compromise. The learning curve for dealing with Congress would be shorter for him, she said.

Unlike his predecessor, Safavian may avoid contentious discussions about competitive sourcing. Instead, outsourcing jobs overseas seems to have taken center stage, Grkavac said.

"He may be fortunate in that he won't be in the middle of all the amendment battles of last year," she said. "My guess is that competitive-sourcing restrictions may not be the thrust of the battle this year."

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