Senate lawmakers want an attitude adjustment from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee members sought reassurance from Anne Rung, President Barack Obama’s nominee to take over OFPP, that she would help deliver that change.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), the chairwoman of the subcommittee on financial and contracting oversight, which held the nomination hearing Thursday, said the consistent absence of leadership at OFPP over the last six years is of great concern to her.
McCaskill is one of a growing number of people in and out of government who are increasingly frustrated about what they say is poor communication and coordination from the administration. Additionally, lawmakers and others say they are disappointed by the overall relationship between the Office of Management and Budget more broadly, and in this case OFPP specifically, and their customers.
McCaskill said a recent example shows why she believes OFPP needs to improve its interaction with the committee.
“We’ve had this problem more often with what I’ll call the business side of the federal government. I want to get to the bottom of it and get it fixed,” McCaskill said. “In March, my subcommittee held a hearing on the past performance databases. We identified a number of issues with the past performance databases. To your credit, OFPP issued new guidance to chief acquisition officers and senior procurement executives regarding better use of contractor performance information. Yet, we didn’t get any notification about of that even though we have been yelling at you guys forever about it. You didn’t even notify Chairman [Tom] Carper’s staff. That doesn’t help with the congressional relationship that needs to be in place for us to have the give-and-take that oversight requires.”
McCaskill also said she’s frustrated over the White House’s policy of not letting career OFPP staff testify before the committee. She said with the turnover at OFPP over the last six years — Rung would be the third OFPP administrator if she is confirmed — many times the committee has requested but was denied an OFPP official to testify on important contracting issues.
Rung said she would work to improve congressional communications and take back McCaskill’s frustration over career staff not being allowed to testify to the White House.
The Obama administration’s policy isn’t a new one. The Bush administration had a similar rule of not letting career staff testify before Congress.
In some regards, McCaskill likely was sending a message to OMB and OFPP that they need to do a better job overall with communication.
Broad support for the nominee
Despite committee members’ frustrations, Rung’s nomination hearing included no drama and little suspense.
McCaskill said she supported her nomination to be OFPP administrator. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), ranking member of the committee, was less explicit of his support, but didn’t voice any concerns about Rung’s qualifications either.
The committee didn’t say when it would vote on Rung’s nomination.
Rung outlined her priorities to the committee, and they didn’t veer far from those of her predecessors, Dan Gordon and Joe Jordan.
Should she be confirmed, Rung’s priorities would be:
To improve federal acquisition spending, with a focus on strategic sourcing;
To drive greater innovations in the acquisition processes;
To improve the training and development of the acquisition workforce.
Rung said as chief acquisition officer for the General Services Administration — where she worked from May 2012 to May 2014 — she has seen a lot of progress from the Federal Acquisition Institute in creating a better trained and skilled acquisition workforce.
“There are a few areas where I think we can move forward more aggressively. I would like to look, if confirmed, at new and innovative ways we can train our workforce. I’d like to get industry input on the ways they think there are smart practices out there and we can do it better,” she said. “FAI has recently created a new specialized COR-plus training, where they take the acquisition workforce and focus their skills on IT project management. This is an area where we can do more in. I like the idea of creating specialized areas within the acquisition workforce. You gain a real expertise in that area.”
One of those areas may be service contracting. Rung wrote in her questions for the record sent to the committee before her nomination hearing that she’d like to use data and performance benchmarks to better understand what agencies are buying and ensure that contracting officers are being trained to meet those needs. Services, of course, are where the government spends about 60 percent of its $480 billion procurement budget.
Too many contractors?
The workforce challenges that agencies face came up during the hearing several times.
McCaskill said because of what some would call an over-reliance on contractors, OFPP needs to develop guidance on the multi-sector workforce.
McCaskill said that guidance needs to help agencies determine whether vendors or employees are most cost effective.
“We know there has been some success at the Department of Homeland Security. They’ve saved $28 million by converting 2,600 jobs from contractors to federal civilians. We know the Army has reduced expenditures on service contracts from $50 billion in fiscal year 2008 to $32 billion in fiscal year 2009,” she said. “If you leave it up to the agencies, it’s not going to happen. If they don’t get stronger guidance from OMB, I can’t tell you how many times on this committee we’ve asked, ‘was there a cost-benefit analysis of contractors versus employees?’ Almost never do they say ‘yes.’ They are not sure what to do, so it’s easier not to do anything. And it appears you guys aren’t sure what guidance to give, so nobody is doing anything.”
McCaskill said she’s brought this issue to OMB’s attention several times over the last few years but hasn’t received any assurance that the administration would issue new guidance.
While Rung promised to look into this at the hearing, in her questions for the record she told the committee that if confirmed she would convene a working group on the multi-sector workforce issues that would review agency progress on implementing the policies and tools.
Data to drive acquisition improvements
Dan Gordon, when he was OFPP administrator in the early part of the Obama administration, tried to address these issues with limited success. The Defense Department also tried to insource jobs and found it cost too much. DoD ended that effort quickly.
Rung said another priority around improving the way agencies buy would focus both on strategic sourcing, as well as around helping agencies make better use of past performance and prices paid data.
“OMB has tracked the progress of agencies with past performance and FAPIS use. When I served as chief acquisition officer, past performance metrics were in my performance plan, and they were the plan of my senior procurement executive,” she said. “As I understand, the data is currently being scrubbed and being reviewed by the agencies.”
Additionally, Rung wrote in her questions for the record that she would work through the CAO Council and industry to figure out if contractors could rate agencies on their acquisition processes, so the government can make improvements where necessary.