Industry to OMB: Fill Styles' shoes quickly

Angela Styles

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Angela Styles' departure next week from the Office of Management and Budget leaves a hole in the administration's competitive sourcing strategy, one that IT industry executives hope is soon filled.

Styles, as administrator of OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy for the past two years, was responsible for the policies and regulations governing $240 billion a year in purchases by the federal government.

She will be most remembered for shepherding the development of a new OMB Circular A-76, industry experts said. The circular lays out the rules for public-private competition of federal jobs.

Over two years, Styles worked with diverse interest groups to rewrite the circular. It was unveiled May 28, replacing a process that had not changed since 1983 and was widely viewed as too lengthy, unfair and difficult to use.

The new rules shortened the time frame for competitions and allowed agencies to make sourcing decisions based on factors other than lowest cost. Almost immediately, however, federal unions and some members of Congress attacked the new circular as unfair to federal employees. Several amendments that would halt A-76 competitions have been attached to congressional spending bills and one passed this week.

It's important that the administration replace Styles soon, said Olga Grkavac of the Information Technology Association of America.

"We don't want to lose a forceful proponent who is opposing these restrictions," said Grkavac, executive vice president of the Arlington, Va., trade group.

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

Robert Burton, associate administrator of OFPP, will be acting administrator after Styles' departure, according to an OMB official.

Styles' resignation is one of several recent departures from the executive branch for the private sector, beginning with e-gov czar Mark Forman on Aug. 15. Norm Lorentz, chief technology officer at OMB, will leave OMB Sept. 19.

The recent spate of executive-branch resignations is to be expected, Grkavac said, because President Bush let his staff know that they should resign in August or September if they could not stay through the 2004 presidential election.

Styles said she was looking forward to practicing law again, and that someone else could best lead implementation of the new process for public-private competition.

"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," she said. "It's a very big job to ensure it continues and works well at the different agencies."

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.

"Most people who worked with her on that issue both sympathized with the position she was in ? between a rock and a hard place ? and also admired her willingness to debate, talk, discuss, and listen on the issues. I think she was committed to trying to do the right thing. It doesn't mean we agreed on everything," said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va., trade group. Soloway served with Styles on the panel that made recommendations for rewriting the circular.

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

Styles really wanted to roll back procurement reforms of the 1990s, which gave government buyers greater discretion and flexibility in purchasing, and sped up the buying process, said Harvard University Professor Steve Kelman, who led OFPP from 1993 to 1997.

"I agreed, by and large, with her effort to make sure there were no de facto sole source awards under [governmentwide acquisition contracts] or GSA schedules, but I disagreed with making it such a central theme and some of rhetoric that suggested she wanted to go back to the '80s, where it took a year or two to award a simple IT services contract to the low bidder," Kelman said.

But Steve Schooner, former associate administrator for procurement law and legislation at OFPP, said Styles didn't want to roll back the procurement reforms, but she did want responsible implementation of them.

"I think that as an attorney, her effort ? was laudable, well intentioned and sincere. It was simply not welcome by industry," said Schooner, and co-director of the government procurement law program at the George Washington University Law School.

Their difference of opinion might illustrate the "between a rock and a hard place" situation of any OFPP administrator.

"No matter what you are going to do, you are going to run into a lot of opposition," said one government contracts lawyer. "I think right now it is a horrendous job. I don't think any competent, honest person would want it."

The person who does take the job needs to have significant procurement expertise and the ability to communicate with lay and professional audiences, Soloway said.

"There is an awful lot yet to do with competitive sourcing, work force issues and procurement trends that bear looking at. This person has to be as diverse in their expertise as possible. And they are going to need more resources to do it right. Angela didn't have enough resources to really get it done," he said.

For implementing A-76, a political operative who can influence other agency leaders might be a better choice than someone who "can talk to the procurement community," Schooner said.

One potential candidate suggested by some industry experts is former Defense Department chief information officer Paul Brubaker. Brubaker did not respond before deadline to a request for comment. He is a partner with the Reston, Va., market research and consulting firm ICG Government.

"Paul has experience that is similar to what Mark Forman had," Grkavac said. "He was deputy CIO at DOD, and he has private-sector experience, Hill experience and GAO experience. That is a nice balance."

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