New OFPP administrator has sights set on workforce, ‘buying smarter’

Joe Jordan has led the Office of Federal Procurement Policy for a little more than two weeks. But he's wasting no time setting priorities. Jordan spoke to In...

Joe Jordan has led the Office of Federal Procurement Policy for a little more than two weeks. But he’s wasting no time setting priorities, which include building up the federal acquisition workforce and “buying smarter.”

Jordan spoke to In Depth with Francis Rose for an exclusive interview, as part of Federal News Radio’s week-long special report, Inside the World’s Biggest Buyer.

Jordan detailed his three main areas of focus:

  • Buying smarter and buying less. One way this can be accomplished is through strategic sourcing and by using more data analytics during the procurement process, he said.
  • Doing business with responsible parties. This includes increasing the use of small business contractors to meet the federal government’s goals as well as bolstering oversight, “where we’ve got a lot of responsibility to protect the taxpayer dollar and prevent fraud, waste and abuse,” he said.
  • Continue to expand the acquisition workforce. “And this is not just the 1102s, the contracting officers, but also the project managers and the contracting officers’ representatives as well, because we need to strengthen the accountability for all of the tax dollars that we spend and we really need to maximize the value for the American people,” Jordan said.

Bridging the awareness gap

Experts and lawmakers have long fretted about the state of the acquisition workforce — both its size and the skill sets and training of its personnel.

“There’s no doubt that agencies have done a tremendous job over the last few years in training their folks, in increasing the attention that they place on acquisition and the development of acquisition professionals,” Jordan said. ‘But I do think there’s more we can do and there’s more that we will do.”

Jordan said OFPP must continue to inform members of the acquisition workforce of the tools at their disposal — to “bridge the awareness gap,” he said.

He cited the mythbusters campaign, which aimed to dispel falsehoods about government-vendor communication, as one example. OFPP also convenes a group called the “frontline forum,” where contracting staff share the challenges — Jordan called them “pain points” — they face in their day-to-day duties.

There’s a need to fully engaged with the full spectrum of the workforce, Jordan added. This encompasses not only the 36,000 1102-series contracting specialists but also program managers and contracting officers’ representatives.

“Agencies have made some great progress in viewing the acquisition workforce through this big-tent mentality and making sure everyone understands that everyone has a role to play,” Jordan said.

Recruiting and retaining staff

OFPP’s workforce strategies are two-pronged: Recruit “the next generation of procurement leaders,” Jordan said and retain the skilled workers agencies already employ.

“It’s important that we recruit the right folks, that we’re clearly communicating what an important role acquisition professionals play in the government,” Jordan said. “What an exciting job it can be — I mean, there is over $500 billion that go out through federal contracts every year … If you’re someone who’s in interested in government service, who really wants to step in and play a role where you can improve government (and) improve value for the taxpayers, why wouldn’t you want to be an acquisition professional? This is where the money is.”

OFPP also wants to make sure agencies are able to keep the skilled workforces they already have.

“We’re going to make sure that they folks who are here know that they’re valued,” Jordan said. “This is not the easiest time to be a federal employee, and I’m going to go around and talk to them at every level and let them know how important their role is to the success of government.”

Importance of the ‘rules of the road’

Jordan, a former associate administrator for government contracting and business development at the Small Business Administration, said his experience there and in the private sector will inform his work as administrator. Before joining SBA, Jordan worked at global management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

“Both of those situations made me acutely aware of the need for fair and effective rules of the road,” Jordan said. “And everybody would agree that we want them to be fair, and we want them to work.”

He also cited a need to minimize burdens on industry stakeholders, which comes through working in a collaborative manner, rather than simply issuing new regulations by fiat. He learned that first-hand, he explained, when he worked on an SBA project to revise regulations for the 8(a) minority or woman-owned small businesses. Jordan and his team visited 12 cities and various companies as part of a nationwide listening tour and opened draft regulations up to extensive public comment.

Buying smarter

Aside from developing the acquisition workforce, Jordan said the Obama administration is emphasizing “buying smarter” in procurement.

Those efforts appear to have paid off, at least in part. In 2011, the Office of Management and Budget announced the first year- over-year decrease in contract spending since 1997 and the first flattening over two years of contract spending in almost 20 years, he said.

“We are being very thoughtful about what we buy, how we buy it and that (for) every dollar …. we’re putting to work, it better be to procure something that we need for our mission.”

One way to do that is by strategic sourcing, which allows agencies to leverage the full power of the federal government when they procure something, Jordan said.

However, some critics contend strategic sourcing will drive some small businesses out of the federal space.

But Jordan said the use of strategic sourcing supports the administration’s overall goal to procure more efficiently.

“We’re the largest procurer of goods and services in the world. Yet for far too long, the government purchased as if it were 130 mid-sized businesses,” he said. “That’s not smart. That’s not delivering the best value to the taxpayer. And this doesn’t mean that driving down prices is the only goal. It means that we’re being thoughtful, we’re being strategic.”

This story is part of the Federal News Radio week-long special report, Inside the World’s Biggest Buyer.


Introduction: Inside the World’s Biggest Buyer

Strategic sourcing: Pennywise but pound foolish?

Lieberman, Collins warn against slashing acquisition workforce

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