Buy Lines: FPP's Savafian needs to hit the ground running

Stan Soloway

In November, Congress finished two tasks many thought it wouldn't: work on all appropriations bills, thus avoiding a long-term continuing resolution, and the confirmation of David Savafian as the new administrator for Federal Procurement Policy. Both are welcome turns of events.

Passing the appropriations bills is of obvious importance to agencies and government contractors. Under a continuing resolution, agency funding would have continued uninterrupted, but "new starts" would have required reprogramming of funds, which is often difficult and needs congressional approval. With funding now in place, even at constrained levels, the agencies know what they can and cannot afford during the balance of the fiscal year.

The long-delayed confirmation of Savafian is significant; the position had been vacant for more than 14 months. Savafian will face many challenges, including difficult issues such as competitive sourcing, business ethics and the future of the General Services Administration's Schedules and Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts.

Two overarching issues need Savafian's immediate attention. First, he must come through on his commitment, made during his confirmation hearing, to focus on the government's acquisition workforce. The federal acquisition community, from agency procurement executives to front-line contracting and program management professionals, has simply not had adequate attention and support over the last several years. In fact, the workforce has become more distanced from its senior political leadership than at any other time in recent history. Savafian must reverse that trend.

In addition to supporting substantially enhanced training and professional development opportunities, Savafian can give the acquisition workforce the strong, senior-level support it needs and deserves, particularly in the highly politicized procurement climate. The workforce needs to feel secure that senior leadership will be its strongest advocate during the most trying times. That tone must be set at the top.

Second, Savafian must help restore congressional confidence in the procurement process. By any measure, the process works remarkably well, especially considering the massive dollars and numbers of transactions involved. Nonetheless, when problems emerge, the "blame game" often begins. Honest errors are turned in grievous scandals, the process is assumed to be fundamentally broken, balanced discussion largely disappears, and those who have never supported procurement reform find new soapboxes on which to stand.

Savafian must use his position and credibility to help educate policymakers on the realities of federal procurement, the benefits the government has gleaned through the bipartisan reforms of the last decade, and ways to achieve further improvements even as appropriate midcourse corrections are made. In so doing, he will help reverse this deleterious trend and bring back balance to the discussion.

Based on his confirmation hearing and his actions since, Savafian appears to understand the challenge well and is committed to taking it on.

Acquisition is more central to the government's performance today than at any other time in our history. As Stephen Goldsmith and William Eggers point out in their new book, "Governing by Network," we are in the midst of a seminal transition that affects every aspect of how the government meets its mission and delivers services to the public. That transition is a key factor behind the increasing scope and complexity of federal procurement.

Given that reality and the political climate, this also is a time for strong, forward-looking, procurement leadership.

Stan Soloway is President of the Professional Services Council; his e-mail is soloway@pscouncil.org

About the Author

Stan Soloway is a former deputy undersecretary of Defense and former president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council. He is now the CEO of Celero Strategies.

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