OFPP head urges acquisition leaders to lose fear of rules

Dan Gordon is on a mission to change the thinking of a generation of timid acquisition officials

The administration’s top procurement policy official encouraged government acquisition leaders to be pioneers in their buying and not be stopped by the fear of being “bashed on the head” for it.

Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said he’s on a mission to change the thinking of a generation of acquisition officials who are shy about trying new things.

He’s telling agencies that he wants them to be innovative in their approach to purchasing. He urged them to try new avenues for making their purchases, such as reverse auctions, and change how they interact with industry by bringing contractors closer into the procurement process.

“We need to get our people to know that we in the White House will not be punishing them for taking a little bit of a risk,” Gordon said during a panel discussion on procurement this morning in Washington, D.C.

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Gordon's comments come a day after he announced a new campaign to counter long-held misconceptions and concerns in the acquisition community. Next year, Gordon and his office intend to launch a large, multimedia crusade to help employees understand what they can do.

“There are too many times that our people feel like they get bashed on the head because they tried a different way of structuring their procurement," Gordon said. "What they’re hearing from me is, ‘Folks, I’ve got your back on this.’ ”

One of the major points of the campaign will focus on the government’s relationship with industry. Gordon wants to reassure the acquisition workforce that it’s all right to talk with industry representatives, especially because it helps contractors understand an agency’s expectations.

“We’ve got to be integrating from Day One,” Gordon said Dec. 9 during a White House forum on reforming federal IT management.

Steve Schooner, a law professor at George Washington University and former associate administrator for procurement law and legislation at OFPP, said government/contractor relationships are complicated. However, contracts — particularly those for services — demand strong management and communication between the two sides.

For example, “you wouldn’t hire a nanny to take care of your kids and never speak to him or her again,” said Schooner, who was on the panel with Gordon.

Gordon said he has to shift a generation’s thinking, but Schooner said the incoming acquisition employees will play a big role in that.

In the coming years, the employees just joining the acquisition workforce and those who have been in it for a short time will help bring about the necessary changes, Schooner said.

As a result of the government's aggressive efforts to build an acquisition workforce with more education and experience, “the people who are being hired are frankly more and better than we had in the last generation,” he said.

About the Author

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

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Reader comments

Tue, Dec 21, 2010 NN Washington, DC

Getting over the fear of innovation is one thing, but what about getting over the fear of the orange jumpsuit? If OMB wants the federal acquisition personnel to be more innovative and take more risks, then it should reduce the personal legal liability associated with the job.

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