Federal procurement has taken a beating in recent months.
●Just last week, the Navy announced the departure of its acting undersecretary, who was pushed out in connection with an alleged contracting scheme that charged the Defense Department $1.6 million for 349 homemade silencers worth $8,000. The former undersecretary was forced to resign after the Navy discovered evidence of an affair while investigating the silencer case. He is not a target of prosecutors, but other officials are.
●The Navy also is immersed in a scandal involving allegations that a Singapore-based defense contractor bribed senior officers with prostitutes, luxury travel and money.
●In the wake of the Affordable Care Act’s HealthCare.gov rollout debacle, President Obama was frank: “The way the federal government does procurement and does IT is just generally not very efficient. In fact, there’s probably no bigger gap between the private sector and the public sector than IT.”
●An Army Corps of Engineers civilian was sentenced in July to 20 years in prison for his role as the ringleader of what the U.S. attorney for the District called “the largest bribery and bid-rigging scheme in the history of federal contracting.”
But these cases are far from the complete story in the $500 billion world of federal procurement. They didn’t stop Joe Jordan, who was administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget until Friday, from declaring that “federal procurement is in a great place.”
As he prepared to leave his office, with a great view of the White House West Wing, Jordan paused to talk about federal contracting and procurement issues. He’s proud of the drop in federal contract spending, from $539.5 billion in 2011 to $459.9 billion in 2013, while the percentage spent on small businesses increased.
“I feel very good about the state of contracting,” he said.
He’s leaving with praise for his personal accessibility from representatives of federal workers and federal contractors who don’t like all the policies he advanced. Federal labor leaders don’t think the administration has done enough to limit the contracting out of jobs they say federal employees should do. A contractor industry representative disagreed with his office over contractor compensation caps.
“Joe’s been a good administrator,” said Stan Soloway, president and chief executive of the Professional Services Council, which represents contractors. “He’s been accessible, communicative and reasonable. Even when we’ve had some policy disagreements, he did not shy away from productive dialogue.”
Before joining the OMB in 2012, Jordan was with the Small Business Administration and the McKinsey & Co. consulting firm. As he returns to private industry, he represents the common revolving-door practice in Washington, where officials come and go between government and business, think tanks, academia or consulting companies.
Jordan, father to a baby girl, is leaving the government but not contracting. He’s joining FedBid, which facilitates transactions between the government and private companies. The firm’s news release announcing Jordan’s role as president of public sector says that he will “help grow and manage FedBid’s Federal Buyer base.”
Jordan said he discussed his move with the OMB’s ethics officer, complied with all laws and regulations, and is confident there is no conflict of interest. Since November, he has been recused from “any policy having a direct or material or financial interest [with] my future employer.”
As a FedBid employee, Jordan said, he will help companies buy goods on the online marketplace, but “I won’t be lobbying the executive branch. I won’t have any professional dealings affecting my employer with the Executive Office of the President — any of those types of things,” he said.
Just before his security-clearance debriefing, Jordan spoke about several federal contracting and procurement issues:
The acquisition workforce. When Obama administration officials took over, they complained that while contracting out for government services increased greatly under the previous administration, the acquisition workforce did not. Since then, the 30,000 contracting officers at the end of the George W. Bush administration have grown to almost 37,000, which Jordan says is about the right number.
About one-third of them, however, have four years’ experience or less, so they are still learning the complex field of government procurement. Another third have 20 years’ experience or more, so they are nearing retirement age.
Within budget constraints, online training and other forms of education have increased. “You’ve got to make sure they have the tools,” Jordan said.
Contracting procedures. Jordan agrees with the congressional moratorium on a contracting-out process known as A-76, because he says it uses flawed methodology. A-76 looks at work done by federal employees to determine if the jobs could be done more cost-effectively by contractors.
Insourcing — taking back work from contractors so federal staffers can do it. “Insourcing certainly should be looked at where you have . . . an inherently governmental function or something that is critical,” Jordan said. Beyond those inherently governmental functions, agencies also should look at bringing inside projects for “clear cost reasons,” he added, but that “isn’t yet something that we want to force agencies to do or push any harder than our current guidance, but we’ve got good guidance.”
The American Federation of Government Employees has often been at odds with Obama administration contracting policies and was much more so with the Bush administration’s. After John Threlkeld, the AFGE’s assistant legislative director, listed a series of issues with Obama administration contractor and procurement policies, he ended with praise for Jordan.
“We will very much miss Mr. Jordan,” Threlkeld said. “He inherited bad policies, but was always gracious and accessible in his interactions with AFGE.”
Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson.