ASIA falls to pieces

ASIA is looking for a home. Two provisions of the Acquisition System Improvement Act have been incorporated into the House version of the Defense Authorization bill, but that leaves ASIA sponsor Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) searching for a way to move the rest of the bill through Congress.

The two adopted provisions are uncontroversial technical amendments, said Olga Grkavac, an executive vice president at the Information Technology Association of America.

However, the real attractions of ASIA — extended share-in-savings contracting authority, an executive exchange program that would allow industry and government officials to temporarily trade places and changes to the system for protests and appeals — have not been

included.

The House and Senate were debating their respective versions of the Defense Authorization bill last week, but neither body had acted as of press time. If the final version of the House bill includes the ASIA provisions, resolution would have to occur in a House/Senate conference committee. The provisions are not expected to be an issue, given that they are not controversial, according to observers.

Davis' spokesman, David Marin, said that getting the two elements adopted into the House Defense bill was an accomplishment.

"We see this as progress, not grounds for disappointment," he said. "Small steps are better than no steps at all."

Some observers, however, say the chances ASIA will pass are slim, partly because the congressional session will be cut short by the presidential nominating conventions this summer and the presidential campaign in the fall.

"In a nonelection year, I expect the [those] Government Reform Committee would promote the remaining provisions as a stand-alone measure," said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. "But [this year,] you have a short calendar."

"Nobody's going to be thinking about procurement as it gets toward the election," agreed Jonathan Aronie, a Washington, D.C., attorney and Federal Computer Week columnist. "I think it will eventually come to pass because Davis is a smart guy, and he's not going to let this go away. I don't see this being on too many people's radar screens in an election year."

Most of what makes up ASIA appeared in last year's Services Acquisition Reform Act but was stripped out before SARA passed into law.

The provisions that remain are more controversial than those that have passed, said Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council.

The parts left behind

ASIA would create an exchange program to allow industry and government acquisition officials to temporarily switch places. The bill would require that 20 percent of federal employees who are assigned to private-sector firms work at small businesses.

The Professional Services Council generally supports exchange programs, Chvotkin said. ASIA's industry/government exchange program would be valuable to people on each side of the equation, he said. Such programs give unique perspectives to those who take part in them.

Industry leaders are often former government employees, so in a sense, temporarily returning to a government agency is less of an eye-opener, he said. However, it can help ex-military employees get a feel for civilian agencies, and it's important for those who have been away from government for years.

"Things change a lot," Chvotkin said. "Things have changed a lot since [Sept. 11, 2001], things have changed in the contracting process since '84, since [the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act]. Current knowledge is very useful, on both sides."

Having trouble sharing

Another section of the bill would expand authorization for share-in-saving contracts and encourage agencies to use them.

In such contracts, companies are paid based on the money they save for customers. The bill would authorize agencies to enter into share-in-savings contracts for up to five years — in some cases possibly for up to 10 years.

It also would establish parameters for dealing with the early termination or cancellation of a contract.

Share-in-savings advocates have been trying to encourage agencies to use this approach, but agency officials have been reluctant and few contracts have been enacted.

Chvotkin said the additional support and clarifications in the ASIA bill would help persuade those who are hesitant to take the step.

"First of all, it will signal that there's a commitment to a share-in-savings structure," he said. "Temporary programs don't really engender much interest or support on either side."

This type of thinking outside the box is "always good to see," Aronie said. The General Services Administration's schedule contracts have been "one of the government's more creative programs. You look at this and see the government continues to be creative."

Share-in-savings carries some risks. The Congressional Budget Office, in a 2003 analysis of SARA, found that expanding the use of share-in-savings would increase spending by $80 million during the 2004-2008 period and by about $450 million by 2013 as agencies are required to pay for terminated contracts with no funding appropriated in advance.

"Share-in-savings is always controversial" because of the funding issues, Chvotkin said. That is largely why Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has kept it out of the bills, he said.

Budget office officials count costs differently than Office of Management and Budget employees, he said, which is why the legislative and executive branches have different views of the costs of share-in-savings.

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