One of the more effective members of the Obama administration, Dan Gordon guided several important cost-cutting and procurement reform initiatives. Now he is about to step down. I think it is safe to say Gordon has been one of the most consequential OFPP administrators in recent years.
He didn’t join immediately after Obama’s inauguration, but rather in September of 2009. This was when tensions between government and industry were running high. Many IT contractors felt their staffs were being raided by agencies. The administration, joined by federal employee unions, seemed to be hell-bent on pulling back work from contractors and taking it wholesale in-house. The White House was looking for across-the-board cuts in spending on contractors.
This article originally appeared on FedInsider.com
The community wondered, who would the president appoint to such a sensitive position? Turns out, this was a good appointment. My theory is that three basic factors made for a successful tenure.
First is Gordon’s thorough knowledge of procurement law itself. He is a lawyer by training, and heads to George Washington University law school as an associate dean.
Second is the fact that he spent 17 years at the Government Accountability Office in its legal services division. He was something of a bid protest lawyer. The culture at GAO, being a congressional agency, is bipartisan. Majorities come and go and the agency prides itself on a just-the-facts-ma’am way of doing things.
Third is Gordon’s personality and approach. Unlike other appointees, who at times have too much of a taste for the majesterial qualities of working in the White House, Gordon took a low key approach. He spoke to government and industry audiences more as a colleague than as a surrogate. He spoke to the press easily, but stuck closely to the precise answers to questions. Most importantly, he listened carefully to the concerns of industry even if he didn’t agree.
Gordon did much to smooth the waters on several contentious issues.
Most contentious was defining what work would be considered inherently governmental, and even more important to industry, what would be considered closely associated to inherently governmental. That second category is a gray area where work can be done by either side. In the end, OFPP policy basically restated the basics. It didn’t break radical new ground because it didn’t have to. That’s wise governing.
Gordon was also a champion for improving the skills and respect for contracting officers. He noted the steadily rising amount of federal contracting activity over the past decade or so, while the acquisition workforce remained flat. He also pushed for more contracting officers technical representatives (COTRs), a gambit supported by findings of the commissions riding herd on contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently OFPP redesignated COTRs as simply contractor officer’s representative and added more structure to requirements of the position.
OFPP administrators have been concerned about the number of departmental or government-wide acquisition contracts for years. Rather than establish some arbitrary number, Gordon’s OFPP started requiring agencies to make business cases for these vehicles.
Earlier this year industry took OFPP to task for issuing interim rules instead of proposed rules. Interims go into effect immediately and are supposed to be used only for urgent situations. While he didn’t back down completely, Gordon listened to industry’s concerns and told the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council to provide more justification before making interim rules.
Gordon also took a reasonable approach towards the administration’s desire for greater use of fixed price contracts. At the ground level, he understood that it’s impossible for every contract to be of any particular type. He helped tamp down the High Road Contracting initiative, which seemed to risk federal dollars to pander to unions. And he encouraged agencies to use lower-risk, existing vehicles instead of full and open competitions.
Perhaps Gordon’s most important gesture when it comes to industry-government relations was the mythbusters program. It reminded people of something that was lost in the fervor about inherently governmental and cutbacks in contractor spending. Namely, that pre-award and pre-solicitation communication between government and industry is not only possible but encouraged. The rules to do it ethically have been in place for years, and they weren’t repealed, Gordon said in effect.
In short Dan Gordon leaves an OFPP more effective and respected than it was before. Luckily, he’ll still be around town, and let’s hope he weighs in with advice from time to time.