Passing the baton

Why, six months into his presidency, has Obama still not named anyone to fill the administrator’s position at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy?

Federal contracting is undergoing some of the biggest changes in a decade. White House officials have issued guidance on how agencies are supposed to spend money earmarked in the $787 billion stimulus package. They have signed off on new regulations governing the procurement process in general and Pentagon weapons systems in particular. And they have nearly completed a definition of “inherently governmental functions” that will close many doors to contractors.

In other words, there are a lot of changes afoot in the world of government acquisition.

Almost from the day he took office, President Barack Obama put the full force of his administration behind an overhaul of the way civilian and military agencies buy supplies and services. As staff writer Matthew Weigelt reports in this week’s cover story, Obama’s stance is a complete 360 from the approach of President George W. Bush, whose administration regularly shunned insourcing in favor of outsourcing to the private sector.

The new administration clearly believes that federal contractors need less entree and the government needs more oversight of noncompetitive contracts and those without fixed prices. So why, six months into his presidency, has Obama still not named anyone to fill the administrator’s position at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy?

OFPP has long been the pivot point for any and all policies related to government acquisition, Weigelt reports. Through the years, that agency's administrator has been the central actor during times of major reform. The person in that position reports to the deputy director for the “M” side of the Office of Management and Budget and usually has the president’s ear on matters involving the federal procurement process.

Power abhors a vacuum, of course, and so key players in the administration and Congress are pressing ahead with major procurement reforms — which begs the question, is an OFPP administrator really necessary? By the time a candidate is found, nominated and confirmed by the Senate, the new leader could be stuck with implementing a program he or she had little say in.

Vivek Kundra, who, as federal chief information officer, also reports to the OMB deputy director for management, is now personally leading the search for an OFPP administrator, as Weigelt reports elsewhere in this issue. Kundra is one of those current administration officials who is taking a keen interest in procurement policy reforms.

Who knows? Maybe Kundra could just do both jobs and save the government the extra salary. Now that’s what you call insourcing.

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