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Players: David Safavian

Teaching Uncle Sam to Be a Better Buyer

New Procurement Administrator Will Oversee How Federal Contracts Are Awarded

By Stephen Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2005; Page A15

While David Safavian, the Bush administration's new chief for government-wide procurement policy, cooled his jets waiting for Senate confirmation, federal contracting got hot.

• The government's procurement community was rocked by court testimony from Darleen A. Druyun, a former top acquisition official at the Air Force, that she had favored Boeing Co. in contract decisions.

"We should be the best at buying," says David A. Safavian, administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget. (Melina Mara -- The Washington Post)

In Profile

David Safavian

Title: Administrator, Office of Federal Procurement Policy, Office of Management and Budget.

Education: Bachelor's degree, Saint Louis University; law degree, Detroit College of Law, Michigan State University; master's of law in taxation, Georgetown University Law Center.

Age: 37.

Family: Married; one child.

Career highlights: Chief of staff, General Services Administration; chief of staff to Rep. Chris Cannon (R-Utah); co-founder, Janus-Merritt Strategies.

Currently reading: "Benjamin Franklin: An American Life" by Walter Isaacson and "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown.

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• A review by the inspector general at the General Services Administration found that employees of the GSA's Federal Technology Service, which buys high-tech products and services on behalf of the government, had not followed the rules in awarding and managing millions of dollars in contracts, raising questions about whether taxpayers paid too much on some of the contracts.

The law that created Safavian's position -- administrator for federal procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget -- does not allow Safavian to intervene in ongoing procurement actions, but he can use the OMB's budget clout to call agencies on the carpet.

"We do have a responsibility to make sure that we have our policies correct," he said in a recent interview. "I view my job as helping to identify policies that are either good for the system or bad for the system, and act accordingly."

Safavian was nominated by President Bush for the OMB post on Jan. 22, 2004, and was confirmed just before Thanksgiving. His nomination was held up, along with about 150 others last year, by Senate Democrats who objected to a number of administration policies.

During part of his wait for confirmation, Safavian served as counselor to Clay Johnson III, deputy director for management at the OMB. Safavian had previously served as chief of staff at the GSA, where he picked up experience in federal contracting issues.

He started his career as a lawyer and worked on Capitol Hill for three House members. He also has worked as a consultant and lobbyist on telecommunications, Indian gambling, tax policy and other matters. In his free time on weekends, he serves as a volunteer police officer in the District and in Dumfries, Va.

With renewed questions being raised on Capitol Hill and inside agencies about contracting practices, Safavian may have to turn his job into a bully pulpit -- championing high standards while reassuring critics that adequate checks and balances are in place to protect taxpayer money.

The Pentagon has begun a review of military procurement systems in light of the Boeing case, and Safavian said the OMB is working to "see if there is any additional support we can provide them so that they have the right policies so that this never happens again."

If the review finds that additional legislative safeguards are required, Safavian said, the OMB "will lock arms" with the Defense Department and go to Congress for a remedy.

Although agencies bear the primary responsibility for addressing improper contracting practices, Safavian indicated that he will be looking at various policies to see whether they can be improved. He plans, for example, to review federal agencies that, for a fee, purchase goods and services on behalf of other agencies. The OMB will look at how fee-for-service agencies solicit their business, where they spend their revenue and the quality of training they offer their staffs, he said.

Asked whether procurement flexibilities enacted during the 1990s are causing systemic problems or whether contract personnel are at fault, Safavian said, "I think it is primarily individual bad actors." But, he added, "what compounds the problem is that we don't have sufficient quantities of training available to our folks."

He said "training, training, training" will be one of his primary themes in the Bush administration's second term. Safavian said his sense that the acquisition workforce needs more training should not be taken as a criticism, but in the spirit that "we want to make sure they have all the tools. . . . We should be the best at buying."

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