This week we caught up with GEORGE SCHUTTER, Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) for the District of Columbia to learn more about himself and his current role in the District. George leads the District’s Office of Contracting and Procurement (OCP), where he oversees over $5.6 billion worth of acquisitions for over 78 agencies.
Supported by a staff of 228, George and his staff manage the contracts and relationships between the District and industry to acquire the supplies, services, and construction requirements of their client agencies. His previous leadership roles included Chief Financial Officer of the Peace Corps; Chief Financial Officer for TechnoServe (an international non-profit providing business solutions to poverty); and Grant Thornton’s Global Public Sector Executive Director in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia, where he opened regional operations in Dubai’s International Financial Center and developed offices in Iraq.
George is a former Major in the U.S. Marine Corps serving for 10 years domestically and abroad, including four years as a Director of a Regional Contracting Office. He has worked and traveled internationally throughout his career (to over 75 countries) and has extensive expertise in finance, procurement and contracts, change management, transparency, as well as capacity building efforts in developing countries.
George is a licensed Certified Public Accountant, Certified Professional Contracts Manager and Chartered Global Management Accountant. He holds degrees in Accounting from the Illinois Institute of Technology and an M.S. in Acquisitions and Contracts Management from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
He is a resident of the District of Columbia where he lives with his daughter.
NASPO STAFF: George, you are an accomplished leader and one of the new NASPO Board members who took office in January, as a result of last year’s Board of Directors elections. Why do you value your membership with NASPO and what motivates you to be a part of this great nationwide organization of state procurement professionals?
GEORGE SCHUTTER: NASPO is an amazing organization of public procurement professionals. I came to the District as the Chief Procurement Officer, with a pretty broad procurement experience, really from around the world, but I had never experienced the challenges and specific issues that you typically deal with in state or local procurement. Coming to the office the first day and having a note from the NASPO President and Board along with a copy of the NASPO State and Local Government Practical Guide was just an immediate understanding that I was welcomed into this wonderful group of professionals.
Anything that we do in the District, whether it is developing a training program, or generating ideas about recruitment and retention, or how systems are used, it likely has been done by another state before. Having those tools and the opportunity to network and learn from peers is great. NASPO is an incredible organization that allows you to connect with other CPOs who may be dealing with similar challenges.
NASPO STAFF: The District of Columbia is such a unique jurisdiction. Can you talk about the strategic role your centralized office has and how it provides oversight for procurement activities in the nation’s capital?
GEORGE SCHUTTER: The District of Columbia is a fascinating place. It’s really an incredibly unique jurisdiction. We are led by an independently-elected Mayor, who has run the city, which has 22 years of balanced budget that we are managing. It’s so unique because you have federal issues, state issues, as well as county and municipal issues that you are all dealing with in one jurisdiction. If you tried to compare contracting here in the District to state contracting – in Illinois, for example, where I grew up, you would need to combine the Illinois state contracting office with the Cook County contracting office, with the school district, and the contracting office that covers the city of Chicago. We provide all those levels of support in this one jurisdiction. So, it’s very fascinating because of the multi-jurisdictional requirements from the multiple levels of government that we manage. My office supports 78 agencies and offices throughout the District. You need to have insight from a practical standpoint of both the Federal Acquisition Regulation as well as the District jurisdictional regulations for all our contracting activities.
NASPO STAFF: George, you have such an impressive background, having led national and international efforts in 75 countries, which focused on reforms in areas such as procurement, financial management, and transparency. The District’s OCP has implemented many reform initiatives in the past few years. Tell me about the recent efforts led by your office to streamline processes and improve the way contracts are sourced in the District. Do you expect they will increase quality, transparency, team member and customer satisfaction?
GEORGE SCHUTTER: Our reform efforts included redesigning our organizational structure to align with the requirements in the District. I think about people, process, and systems. We have over 160 contracting professionals that manage broad commodities and service areas from 23 office locations throughout the District. Aligning the structure of the central contracting office is important because it allows the subject matter experts to communicate, coordinate and share that knowledge. Also, standardizing the way we do business is critical. Every procurement is different, but you need to have standardized processes so that your supplier partners are not dealing with duplicative process, or two different ways to invoice against the contract, for example. Making sure we have the training mechanisms in place is also very important to us; we are very lucky here in the District to have the resource of a Procurement Training Institute to be able to train to a certification. This is a joint certification with George Washington University in the District of Columbia.
Lastly, I’d mention systems. We are now in the design phase of the system refresh of our current technology. All contracting processes will be incorporated into the system more thoroughly, which will help us better understand where we are in the contracting process and increase transparency and visibility into our spend, to really complete the reforming efforts.
NASPO STAFF: If I were a fly on the wall in George’s office in the District of Columbia, what would I hear and see every day? Walk me through a day in the life as the CPO, leading the District’s OCP.
GEORGE SCHUTTER: As I mentioned before, we are supporting 78 offices and agencies. The days are very engaging, you can have strategy discussions as well as getting into challenges related to a particular procurement. We work at a very fast pace here in the District. At any given day you come into the office in the morning you have a full schedule on your plate. Most of the time, however, something that is higher priority will come up that takes the attention of the CPO, which is going to change my day completely. It lends to a very fast-paced schedule that is fluid, but it all is such a meaningful work. I know it might sound a bit cliché, but to be able to see the direct impact our work has on the residents, is really meaningful for us here in the Office of Contracting and Procurement.
NASPO STAFF: Name one accomplishment you are most proud of since you became the CPO in the District.
GEORGE SCHUTTER: Our team has done an incredible number of things I am very proud of. The one thing that I am most proud of (which is actually work in progress) is changing our focus and move from a contracting function that was more about processes to a more advisory role. Our contracting officers and specialists are now understood to act as business advisors and change agents, rather than just processing documents. They perform a function that is critical, which can and should be a mission-enabler and really a mission-multiplier for the agencies that we support.
NASPO STAFF: As a Board member and the Research & Innovation Champion you have a unique vantage point for various NASPO initiatives regarding best practices and innovative ideas in public procurement. Tell me about your involvement with NASPO and where you see NASPO playing a key role in the near future.
GEORGE SCHUTTER: I am honored to be on the Board, an incredible group of professionals with really incredible experience! Some of the things that I am really interested in as a part of NASPO, the Board, as well as the Research & Innovation Champion are: How do we continue to build public procurement as a profession? How do we deliberately work with higher education institutions, industry and our states in making state-level public procurement a profession? Another thing that I think about is really operational. How do we continue to utilize the talent and experience in NASPO and our network to create tools and support functions that are needed by contracting officers in the states? I think about tools, such as Procurement IQ and GovWin IQ, which we offer as member benefits; I think about being able to call the Research & Innovation team about researching a particular topic of interest to an individual state, which can then be shared and benefit multiple states. I think about NASPO advancing public procurement as a profession, expanding the current benefits and providing support to our contracting officers around the country.
NASPO STAFF: Any words of wisdom, or tips you’d like to share with our Procurement Pulse blog community and procurement professionals around the country?
GEORGE SCHUTTER: Yes, I think being an exceptional contracting officer means being an exceptional business advisor to the team that is managing the procurement specifically, as well as to those supporting the program and generating the requirements. As a business advisor, contracting officers need to make sure they are engaging with the program and advising at a key point in the procurement where strategy is really important. Often times we don’t get into the strategy until requests for proposals are out on the street. You are going to do great work if you include strategy in your acquisition planning, before you are even getting into the transaction level of a particular procurement.
So, the tip to the community is: think strategically and serve as a business advisor to the overall process. Make sure you develop the requirements and the source selection criteria in a collaborative manner.
NASPO STAFF: George, what keeps you up at night?
GEORGE SCHUTTER: RESOURCES, RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION! This business is all about people. We need to make sure we have great people that are well-trained – people who have the tools they need to be great business advisors.
NASPO STAFF: What is your favorite holiday?
GEORGE SCHUTTER: I definitely love holidays. The 4th of July has always been a holiday that I love. You know, growing up in Chicago and celebrating Independence Day, the food, musical events, the fireworks display in downtown on the 3rd and in the suburbs on the 4th was something I always enjoyed. Celebrating our Independence Day, with my background in the Marine Corps and now living in the Nation’s Capital, solidified that even more. I just love the amazing fireworks and events down on the Mall on the 4th; the District does that so well. I’d say the 4th of July is tops out there.
NASPO STAFF: If you didn’t work in public procurement, what would you do?
GEORGE SCHUTTER: If I didn’t work in public procurement, I guess I would go back to management consulting, likely around international programs, or go back to the CFO/COO/CEO ranks to lead a very solid mission. But it would be great to be a travel guide to austere places in the world with a lot of different cultures. That would be a lot of fun, if I could find the time!