Web extra: Waxman on competition in federal contracting

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, talked about the state of competition in federal contracting in an e-mail interview with Federal Computer Week reporter Matthew Weigelt.


FCW: Describe the state of competition in contracting today. Are you concerned?


Waxman: I am very concerned about the state of competition in contracting today. Full and open competition has declined sharply under the Bush administration. Between 2000 and 2006, the dollar value of contracts awarded without full and open competition more than tripled. Spending on no-bid and limited-competition contracts increased 43 percent, from $145 billion in 2005 to more than $206 billion in 2006. This surge in contract spending has come at a steep cost to taxpayers through rising waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement. For the first time, a majority of federal procurement spending is now awarded without full and open competition. 


FCW: The Acquisition Advisory Panel's report states there is a mind-set within agencies to award contracts quickly. The report also states that the acquisition workforce views competition essentially as a barrier to that end. Do you agree with the panel's assessment?


Waxman: That is a significant problem.  But I also fault the political appointees who head the agencies. Too often, they seem to act as if their clients are the contractors. They should be putting the interests of the taxpayer first. 


FCW: Agency officials say their contracting officers are overburdened with work and tend to use quick and easy-to-use task and delivery orders under interagency agreements. How does that affect competition for federal contracts?


Waxman: As the federal government awards more contracts, overburdened contracting officers turn to task- and delivery-order contracts as a quick fix, but those contracts often provide limited competition. Limited competition is better than no competition at all, but full and open competition provides the best option for both the government and the taxpayer.


FCW: Do you think that an understaffed acquisition workforce is a primary reason for some of the recent contracting troubles?


Waxman: The reduction in the acquisition workforce is one of the reasons for recent contracting troubles. While federal contracting has skyrocketed, the acquisition workforce has remained stagnant and officials are increasingly overburdened. To address this need, I have proposed that 1 percent of federal procurement spending be set aside for enhanced contract management and oversight. But, ultimately, it is the leaders of the agencies who must be held accountable. In our oversight, we see the same problems being repeated over and over again. That says that agency leaders are not doing their jobs.


FCW:  Paul Denett, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator, issued a memo stating that 64 percent of competition-based dollars were competed in fiscal 2005 and 2006, compared with 61 percent in fiscal 2004. How do you respond?


Waxman: Spending in all categories of contracts has increased overall, but the value of no-bid contracts has increased faster than contracts awarded through limited competition or full and open competition. The Bush administration includes limited-competition contracts in its overall figure for competitive contracts, but the Committee on Oversight does not consider limited-competition contracts to be as beneficial as contracts awarded through full and open competition.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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