Burton takes a new angle on procurement

OFPP administrator’s right-hand man wields the influence of experience

Robert Burton has an expansive view of Washington, D.C.’s government power hub from his ninth-story office window. He can see the front driveway of the White House, turn southwest to see the Pentagon on the other side of the Potomac River or look eastward along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol building.

In his professional role as associate administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, he has a similar scope.

“We have perspectives on a number of these policy issues that perhaps the agencies do not,” Burton said. “We’re looking at what’s best for the government as a whole,” while establishing regulations on best practices for the agencies.

Burton first got a glimpse of government work during the summers while he attended the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. He was a member of the Department of the Navy’s Junior Fellowship program, which put college students to work in government offices during their vacations.

“The experience and scope of responsibility you get by working with the federal government aren’t matched,” Burton said. “That is more of an attraction than the salaries.”

Burton entered full-time government work as an acquisition attorney in the Defense Department’s Defense Logistics Agency. He stayed for more than 20 years, until 2001, when then-OFPP administrator Angela Styles asked him to come across the river to be her deputy.

After Styles left the post in 2003, Burton spent much of his time in an acting administrator role, interrupted only by David Safavian’s nine-month tenure before his arrest and conviction in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. Paul Denett became the new administrator in August.

Burton said the most difficult aspect of the OFPP administrator’s job is trying to consider everyone’s position when setting policies.

“There is no question. The most challenging aspect of the OFPP administrator’s job is really to fairly balance competing interests on every one of our initiatives,” Burton said.

Being in the middle is one of OFPP’s major roles — and the thorniest for its leaders. “Trying to come up with that balance, I think, is very difficult to do, and that is what makes the job so challenging and interesting,” Burton said.

David Javdan, managing director at Alvarez and Marsal, a firm that advises businesses on solving internal problems, said Burton works in a highly contentious area. Experts often take opposite stances on the issues, but Burton pushes past opinion to get to the facts of the issue, he said.

Styles said Burton started straightening things up in OFPP as soon as he arrived. Some employees were uninterested in working, so Burton soon had them hunting for jobs that fit their interests, she said.

“People who work for Rob have to work,” she said.

The Robert Burton File

Position: Associate administrator of the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Work history: Worked for the Defense Logistics Agency as an acquisition attorney after law school. He moved to OFPP in 2003 as deputy to then-administrator Angela Styles. He is now deputy to Paul Denett, the new OFPP administrator.

Education: Earned a degree in government from the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., in 1976. He graduated from the University of Virginia Law School in 1979.

Family: Married and has four children.

Little known fact: In 1971, Burton shook hands with President Nixon while participating in the American Legion’s Boys Nation program. Perhaps as a result of that encounter, Burton became a presidential history buff. Traveling through Fairfield, Ohio, he once made an unexpected stop at the home of President Rutherford Hayes. He and his family left three hours later, and the children begged him never to make such a stop again.

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