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Teaching Uncle Sam to Be a Better Buyer

Better training of the acquisition workforce also may help the administration deal with another potential problem: a loss of experience in the ranks because of retirements likely to take place over the next five years. About 40 percent of procurement professionals are nearing retirement age, raising questions about whether agencies will have enough contract managers to oversee their projects.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, plans to look at reorganization of the GSA and whether parts of the federal acquisition system needs modification. Safavian's wife, Jennifer Safavian, is chief counsel for oversight and investigations on the committee, and she has signed a recusal agreement that will keep her from looking into OMB and procurement matters.

"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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Safavian, in addition to once working on the Hill as an aide to lawmakers, has also been a lobbyist. He was a co-founder of the lobby and consulting shop Janus-Merritt Strategies -- with Grover Norquist, a Republican anti-tax activist -- and has lobbied for the National Indian Gaming Association, the Interactive Gaming Council, the Interactive Services Association, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, NorthPoint Communications Inc. and Covad Communications, among others.

While he was the GSA chief of staff in August 2002, Safavian took part in a trip to Scotland hosted by the Capital Athletic Foundation, a charity now under federal investigation because of its ties to lobbyist Jack Abramoff and questions about its spending and revenue. Also on the trip was Abramoff, House Administration Committee Chairman Robert W. Ney (R-Ohio) and former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed.

Safavian said he got the trip approved by the agency's ethics counsel in advance, paid for his share of the expenses in advance and took unpaid leave. "The trip was exclusively personal; I did no business there. . . . Jack is an old friend of mine," Safavian said.

During the administration's second term, Safavian said, he will concentrate on helping to implement the president's federal management agenda. In particular, that means a continued push to expand, and hopefully reap, cost savings and efficiencies from "competitive sourcing."

The initiative has roiled parts of the federal workforce and emerged as a prime target of unions on Capitol Hill. It requires agencies to conduct job studies of their commercial activities to determine whether they can be performed more efficiently -- either through contracting out or by a restructuring of the in-house staff.

Safavian's predecessor, Angela B. Styles, rewrote OMB Circular A-76 in an attempt to streamline the job competitions and level the playing field between federal employees and contractors. But federal unions contend that competitive sourcing is just a way for Bush to reward campaign supporters and industry; they argue that project savings are illusory.

Safavian said the administration plans to make available more information to the public on the competitive sourcing process, in part to address concerns about whether the initiative will produce long-term savings and to explain how decisions are made.

"I think we have absolutely nothing to hide in our competitive sourcing strategy," he said, adding that he hopes to improve the OMB's communications with Congress and build support on the Hill for the initiative.

"As we move forward, as we look at our tight budgets, competitive sourcing provides a real critical management tool for agencies to get costs under control," he said. "What we see is generally, regardless of who wins these competitions, the competitive pressures drive costs down," he added.

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