A void in the community

Less than a day after Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) decided not to run for reelection in 2008, the longtime procurement and technology advocate already had his successor in mind.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Davis’ choice, is unknown to most in the acquisition and technology community.

Davis said last week in an interview with Federal Computer Week that he tapped Issa as the one to fill his shoes after the current term ends. He said Issa understands the private sector and how it relates to government.

“He’s up to snuff,”Davis said, who announced Jan. 30 that he would not run for an eighth term.

Davis’ long-standing interest in procurement and technology issues made him a rare expert on Capitol Hill. Not many are attracted to those issues.Many in the acquisition community and the information technology industry couldn’t name anyone when asked who could replace Davis’ advocacy on their issues.

“I don’t see anyone filling his shoes immediately,” one senior acquisition official said.

Another senior acquisition official said, “It’s not that other members aren’t interested in acquisition. It’s that they don’t understand the process like he does.”

If other members seek to take up Davis’ slack, they will be in a tough position to try to gain standing in the acquisition community, officials say.

But Davis said he believes Issa will be a capable successor. Issa started his own company, Directed Electronics, which makes automobile security and convenience products, in 1982 in Cleveland. He then was the chairman of the Consumer Electronics Association and a member of the board of governors of the Electronics Industry Association.

“Congressman Issa, with his background in the technology sector, is keenly interested in how new technologies and procurement policies can make the federal government work more efficiently,” said Issa’s spokesman Frederick Hill.

Davis said he would introduce the little- known lawmaker to IT industry groups and the federal acquisition community.

Other members recognize the pressure Davis’ retirement places on their shoulders.

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), who is next in line for the ranking member position or possibly chairmanship on the oversight committee, said he and other members will have to quickly study the minutiae of acquisition and procurement regulations.

“We have general principles,” such as believing in flexibility in government contracting, contracting standards and sensible spending, Shays said. “The next question is how you make that practical.”

Shays said members will spend time with Davis during his last year to siphon his insight on government acquisition and IT.

Federal officials say Davis’ departure will leave a huge void. “Tom Davis understands that the acquisition workforce is more than shoppers,” said David Drabkin, acting chief acquisition officer at the General Services Administration.

Davis said IT and procurement lack the status that would attract many lawmakers.

Other officials said few legislators care enough about the issues to focus on them.

“Tom has been a leading champion of the front line acquisition profession,” said Paul Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Denett and OFPP staff members are implementing many of Davis’ bills. One bill, the Services and Acquisition Reform Act of 2003, created a panel to review federal procurement policies. OFPP has tried in the past year to incorporate some of the SARA panel’s recommendations.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish before the end of the year,” Denett said.

Senior officials said Davis’ departure could mean the loss of his staff, which is lau ded for its knowledge of acquisition issues and ability to work productively with agencies.

Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management, said the administration has worked with Davis on many issues, including security clearance reform and real property management.

“We wanted to make sure he understood what we were trying to do,” Johnson said. “He was not an automatic ‘yes’ vote.” Davis would push back when it wasn’t right and ask discerning questions, Johnson said.

Members of the e-government community said they’re losing a major player in Congress who champions their cause, but they hope the work he started continues.

“He has been a great supporter of the President’s E-government initiative and the IT community as whole,” said Karen Evans, OMB’s administrator for e-government and IT. “We hope to continue to make progress on the initiatives he helped champion.”


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About the Author

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

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