The Trump Administration Finally Has a Top Procurement Administrator

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C. bakdc/Shutterstock.com

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Innovation, cost efficiency, cybersecurity protections, small business partnerships and category management are all on Michael Wooten’s agenda.

Michael Wooten, the newly confirmed administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, pledged to be a strong supporter of President Trump’s management agenda as he sets the procurement policies and priorities for the federal government. He is the first confirmed OFPP head since the departure of Anne Rung in September 2016. Wooten said he plans to focus on innovation, cost efficiency, cybersecurity protections, small business partnerships and category management, among other things. 

During his confirmation hearing on May 7, Wooten laid out his vision for the role: “I believe that acquisition goodness can be best achieved by supporting the president’s management agenda.” Wooten said he will work to institutionalize category management, support small business partners, improve major acquisitions, spark innovation and lead the acquisition workforce. His three-plus decade career has mainly been in procurement and acquisitions. 

“Innovation and cost efficiency are the two most critical procurement concerns for the success and duration of the federal acquisition system.” Wooten said. He wants agencies to share market intelligence, leverage buying power and use expertise from across the government for common spending. 

The Senate confirmed Wooten by voice vote on August 1. He most recently was the senior advisor for federal student aid at the Education Department. His previous positions include: deputy chief procurement officer for the District of Columbia, deputy department chair and professor of contract management at the Defense Acquisition University, adjunct professor at the University of the District of Columbia. As a Marine Corps officer, he organized the fast-tracking of  60 acquisition plans for humanitarian projects in Afghanistan, according to his LinkedIn page. 

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council, told Government Executive that Wooten has a reputation for being easy to work with and is well-versed in the acquisition process. 

Chvotkin said of the position: “It’s political because of where they sit as a Senate confirmed official within the Office of Management and Budget. There are only a handful of officials in OMB that have that Senate confirmed position.” Even though acquisition is not typically a partisan political issue, there is a tendency for the administrator to push the president’s priorities. 

Wooten assured lawmakers that he would be responsive to oversight investigations because he supports transparency. In regards to concerns over the Office of Management and Budget’s lack of cooperation on some inquiries, Wooten said he would "ensure that any information required from my particular office was forwarded to the OMB at large, so that we can provide timely responses.” 

Enhancing Network Security

Wooten said he believes cybersecurity is one of the “most concerning areas of vulnerability” and as administrator, he will work with the appropriate agencies to “ensure we don’t have procurement regulations that get in the way of getting the type of cyber defense resources that we need.” 

While he is “not presently aware,” of  any procurement regulations that are a hindrance to cyber defense currently, he said, “ I think because of the nature of cyber threat we have to continually scan the environment and I think that’s a question I would need to put to the leadership from time to time.” 

Wooten called the procurement process on federal acquisition regulation that has evolved over decades from statues, regulations and case law a “gordian knot” that he does not know where to cut. What’s worked in the past is an incremental approach to improvements that takes into account the concerns of all stakeholders, he said. 

Wooten acknowledged the federal government can learn some lessons from the private sector on customization. For example, often the government procures commercial off-the-shelf products and then tries to fit them into government policies retroactively. He said the government instead needs to “retrofit the process instead of the product.”  

Additionally, for large acquisitions like military weapons systems, the government needs to look for better ways to tailor solutions to mission requirements, so officials don’t “build our way to something that is already antiquated.”

Chvotkin hopes Wooten continues the office’s “very active and visible engagement” with industry. He referred to OFPP’s series of “myth-busting ” memos. Lesley Field, OFPP deputy administrator, wrote in April that the long-standing outreach campaign aims to “spotlight how front line acquisition officials and managers have been challenging entrenched ideas about engagement between the public and private sectors.”

President Trump nominated Wooten in February for the second time after the Senate failed to act on his nomination last year. Chvotkin said he believes the delay was due to Congress’s other priorities, such as the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. He told Government Executive, “There is certainly nothing in his record that I’m aware of or anything from the congressional investigation [prior to] his confirmation that led anyone to conclude that he was not eligible for confirmation.”