Meet Mr. Procurement Policy

Robert Burton sets directions for OFPP and steers governmentwide acquisition

The Robert Burton File

Position: Deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget.
Work history: Burton worked at the Defense Logistics Agency as a senior acquisition attorney after law school. He moved to OFPP in 2001 as deputy to the then-administrator, Angela Styles. He is now deputy to Administrator Paul Denett.

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

Professional associations: Burton is an active member of the American Bar Association’s Section of Public Contract Law and has served as a member of the section’s governing council. He is licensed to practice law in Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Procurement power players

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of that committee, are are backing a bill that would make changes to the growing use of task and delivery orders to require more competition for the work.

Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the Small Business Committee, and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, have held several hearings to examine the Small Business Administration’s policies on small-business contracting programs.

Steve Preston, SBA administrator, launched the agency’s first small-business scorecard this year. Some people have said it is an effective measure for shaming agencies into meeting their small-business contracting goals.

He’s known as the man behind the curtain at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Robert Burton, deputy administrator, has been a steady influence, a fixture guiding governmentwide acquisition policy through good times and bad.

Burton has seen much change since he became deputy in 2001. OFPP administrators Angela Styles and David Safavian came and went, and now Paul Denett leads the office.

Each time an administrator left, Burton picked up the pieces as acting administrator and directed procurement policy-making. Despite the changes in political leadership and Safavian’s felony conviction for obstructing justice during an investigation of the Jack Abramoff corruption scandal, OFPP has started several governmentwide initiatives, including a federal acquisition workforce survey and an inventory of interagency contracts under Burton’s watch.

OFPP has pushed numerous acquisition initiatives during a challenging period shaped by the 2001 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Through it all, OFPP’s top priority under Burton has been shoring up the acquisition workforce.

“Success or failure rests on the skills of the workforce,” Burton said.

Policy experts say Burton is an analytical leader who studies policy issues and works well with task forces, working groups and procurement panels. Procurement experts describe him as a go-to guy who industry leaders and congressional staff members seek for answers to federal acquisition questions.

Burton’s background gives him extensive knowledge to draw from. In 2001, Styles summoned Burton to OFPP from the Defense Department’s Defense Logistics Agency, where he had worked for 20 years as an acquisition attorney.

OFPP has published policies on rebuilding the acquisition workforce’s diminishing numbers and appraising the skills of contracting officers so officials can direct resources and training to the areas that most need them. OFPP, along with the Federal Acquisition Institute, conducted a competency survey in March. The survey of contracting officers gathered information on demographics, business and technical competencies, skills and professional certifications. The survey response rate was more than 60 percent, higher than Burton’s office had expected.

The assessment survey targeted employees other than contracting officers and included agency program and project managers. “Program managers are an integral part of the acquisition workforce,” Burton said. “Program managers clearly need acquisition training.”

An April 25 OFPP memo states that program managers and contracting officers must share an understanding of how to fulfill the government’s acquisition requirements. The memo requires managers in each executive agency to become certified in core skills and competencies.

Under Burton, OFPP has urged agencies to consider rehiring retired acquisition workers to bring their experience back into the government. The office has directed agencies to implement the Bush administration’s strategic-sourcing policy by consolidating their supply sources. Burton has used the authority of the office to get agencies to implement competitive sourcing policies that invite contractors to compete with federal employees for certain jobs.

Burton also has urged agencies to use performance-based contracting to get better results and gathered the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s emergency acquisition rules into one section of the FAR to make it easier for contracting officials to look up rules during emergencies.

Industry officials say they have a good working relationship with Burton. Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at FedSources, said, “Rob cares about getting the facts and making good policy decisions based on the facts. It’s a tough job for an agency at the highest levels of the executive branch to be totally apolitical.”

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, said Burton thinks through issues and doesn’t make rash decisions while under political pressure. Instead, he seeks the facts of the case and reaches out to people who have a stake in particular issues, Soloway said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.


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