Styles steps down as procurement chief

Angela Styles

File photo

Angela Styles, the federal government's top procurement official, is resigning and will return to private law practice. She has been responsible for the policies and regulations governing $240 billion a year in purchases by the federal government.

Styles is administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget. Her last day is Sept. 15. She has served in the position since May 24, 2001. Robert Burton, associate administrator of OFPP, will be acting administrator after Styles' departure, according to an OMB official.

Styles, 36, said she would take a few months off and then return to her previous employer, the Washington firm Miller & Chevalier Chartered, where she will be a partner. She will practice government contracts law.

"I'm looking forward to practicing law," Styles said.

At OFPP, Styles was charged with reworking the process of putting commercial jobs performed by federal employees up for competition with the private sector. The process was widely viewed as too lengthy, unfair and difficult to use. After two years of work, the new OMB Circular A-76, which lays out the rules for public-private competitions, was unveiled May 28. The new rules shortened the time frame for competitions and allowed agencies to make sourcing decisions based on factors other than lowest cost.

For almost 50 years, there had been almost no public-private competition in the civilian agencies. Immediately after the new circular was published, agencies began announcing competitions. Now almost every agency has announced a competition or is about to, Styles said.

She said it took certain skills ? skills she had ? to rewrite the circular and get the competition process in motion again. She said she's not the person to oversee implementation of the circular throughout government.

"It takes a different set of skills to implement it and share best practices among the agencies. Somebody can come in with the energy to do that, the energy I don't have right now," Styles said. "It's a very big job to ensure it continues and works well at the different agencies."

Throughout the A-76 debate, federal union leaders and some members of Congress said the Bush administration only wanted to send federal jobs to the private sector, but Styles always said her goal was to see who could perform the work the best, and that she didn't care who won.

IT industry executives said the new process was better than the last, and although it wasn't perfect, they said Styles had considered all sides of the sourcing debate.

"Senators and members of Congress who were opposed to [public-private competitions] for political reasons would make it about the politics as opposed to managing the government well," Styles said. "It is incredibly time consuming to be well prepared for [congressional] hearings, and frustrating when you feel like it is more of a show than getting at the substance of the issue.

Styles testified 22 times before Congress during her time at OFPP. Despite the unions' opposition to A-76, there were good relations between the two sides, she said.

"They have a job to do and try to do it as effectively as they can," Styles said. "Do we disagree on policies? Yes. But our relationship has been very good. It's been good because both sides have had an open door."

Opponents of outsourcing federal jobs have continued to rally against A-76 competitions, with several legislative initiatives launched to prevent competitions in government organizations, such as the Federal Aviation Administration and Interior Department. In July, the administration backed away from its numerical goals for competing federal jobs, after weathering repeated complaints from union leaders, lawmakers and the General Accounting Office that the goals actually were quotas for outsourcing federal jobs.

OMB had wanted agencies to compete 15 percent of all federal jobs considered commercial under OMB Circular A-76 by October, and 50 percent of all positions by 2007. Styles said more than 800,000 of those jobs had never been subject to competition. Opponents of the goals said they were arbitrary and not based on research.

The concerns were valid, Styles said.

"You always have to make concessions to move forward. We made a lot of progress with percentages, and we'll make a lot of progress without them," she said.

Styles also was charged with examining the practice of contract bundling, or consolidating two or more contracts for goods or services previously provided under separate, smaller contracts. Bundling may make contracts easier for agencies to manage, but typically, the contracts are too large for small businesses to handle the work. Styles developed a plan for unbundling contracts where possible; the final regulations that would put the plan into effect have not been published.

"There's still a lot of work to be done," she said. "A lot of it is incumbent on the small business community to communicate their concerns, and on the administration to move forward."

Styles said she had hoped to devote more attention to competition in contracting with the private sector, "making sure people in our agencies don't just go to their favorite vendors."

Any company that has a good technology and a good idea should have the opportunity to bid for government work, she said, but instead, a lot of contracting is being done "under the radar screen."

"You've got [General Services Administration] schedules and other types of contracts where you can decide in advance you want a Dell computer with a Pentium processor, and you don't have to have any public announcement that you are going to buy that. You can decide in advance who you want to buy from, get two offers from other people and go to the person you wanted to go to in the first place," she said.

OFPP's initiatives are not at risk with her departure, Styles said.

"Clay Johnson [OMB's deputy director for management] has a firm grasp on these issues, and my staff knows these issues backwards and forwards," she said.

Styles said her replacement will need management skills and knowledge of how the government works, especially in the executive branch. The new administrator will also need to know how to work with Capitol Hill, which Styles said was 50 to 75 percent of her job.

Styles is the second OMB official to resign today. Earlier, Norman Lorentz announced he would leave his post as OMB's chief technology officer this month to join a Washington-area IT company.

Lorentz informed OMB officials of his intention to step down Aug. 30, he said. He will join DigitalNet of Herndon, Va., as a senior vice president.

During her previous tenure at Miller & Chevalier, Styles litigated contractors' claims against the U.S. government before the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

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