Buy Lines: High-profile departures leave uncertainty

Stan Soloway

While some of the President's Management Agenda initiatives, such as e-government, move forward impressively, others are struggling. The President's Competitive Sourcing initiative is awash in a sea of fear, mythology and parochial political assaults that ignore the reality of the process and the proven benefits of competition. And strategic human capital planning -- which involves some real civil service reform and is inextricably linked to the rest of the agenda -- is stuck in first gear.

Three important people in these areas recently left their leadership positions. The effects of these departures will be felt in very different ways.

Mark Forman, the federal information technology czar, left the Office of Management and Budget for a West Coast startup company. He left behind an ambitious agenda and impressive accomplishments. The business case analysis process Forman put in place is becoming institutionalized, and other key parts of the initiative are well under way.

Although Forman's personal leadership will be missed, there is no reason to believe the initiatives he championed will slow down, particularly with the prompt appointment of a seasoned replacement, Karen Evans.

Far more significant questions are raised by the defeat of Bobby Harnage as president of the American Federation of Government Employees, the largest federal employee union, and the resignation of Angela Styles, administrator for federal procurement policy and the administration's point person for competitive sourcing.

Harnage was defeated for re-election in August because, according to most analysts, the membership felt he was "not tough enough" on the Bush administration. Having worked with Harnage during and since my tenure at the Defense Department, and having served with him on the Commercial Activities Panel, I find this perception strange and troubling.

Harnage was an outspoken and sometimes virulent opponent of the administration's agenda. But if he wasn't "tough enough" on the administration, then an even more bitter campaign against the administration's agenda, particularly competitive sourcing, lies ahead. Indeed, it's already under way.

For Angela Styles, this could not have been an easy two and a half years. Her plate was full, and in her 30-month tenure, she testified an astonishing number of times on issues ranging from small business to the government purchase card and acquisition reform.

But most often the topic was competitive sourcing, and without question, Styles will most be remembered for her work on this issue.

As evidenced by Harnage's defeat, the disinformation campaign regarding A-76, the spate of anti-competitive sourcing amendments in Congress, and the early September vote by the House to prohibit implementation of the new A-76 -- a vote one union president said would mark the "end of competitive sourcing" -- the unions smell blood and are going all out.

Meanwhile, with its point person gone, the administration has candidly acknowledged that it was caught napping when the amendment to kill the new A-76 came to the House floor. That says a lot.

There is a lot to do to educate and convince Congress and the agencies regarding the importance and efficacy of the competitive sourcing initiative. Doing so will require a much greater focus by the administration.

It remains to be seen how long it will take for Angela Styles' replacement to be named and confirmed, and whether that person will have the political support and mettle to move the agenda forward.

The next few months will be critical in determining whether the competitive sourcing agenda survives or falls victim to rhetoric, fear and myth.

Stan Soloway is president of the Professional Services Council; he previously served as deputy undersecretary of defense. His e-mail is soloway@pscouncil.org.

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