Letters to the editor

Of Time and Materials Contracts; Where Are the Geniuses?; Losing Objectivity

Of Time and Materials Contracts

Facts are important. Facts are particularly important when making arguments and reaching conclusions with the purpose of influencing public policy. In a recent column in your magazine by Steve Kelman, "Avoid overkill" [FCW, Aug. 5], the facts failed to make an appearance.

The first sentence of his column states: "The Office of Federal Procurement Policy's (OFPP) effort to ban time and materials (T&M) contracting on General Services Administration schedules...is an example of Draconian overregulation." Kelman's entire column, argument and conclusion are based on this blatantly false assertion.

No one at OFPP or in this administration has undertaken an "effort to ban" T&M contracts. Furthermore, we do not now, nor have we ever, opposed the use of T&M contracts (whether on GSA schedules or otherwise).

In fact, a regulatory prohibition on the use of T&M contracts for the acquisition of commercial items was imposed in 1995 during Mr. Kelman's tenure as administrator for federal procurement policy. Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 12.207 currently states: "Agencies shall use firm fixed-price contracts or fixed-price contracts with economic price adjustment for the acquisition of commercial items.... Use of any other contract type to acquire commercial items is prohibited."

Kelman conveniently overlooks this administration's commitment to revising the FAR to ensure that T&M contracts can be legally used for commercial item acquisitions, eliminating this inflexible prohibition. An important consideration will be the risks inherent in a T&M contract. Any regulations allowing such contracts for the purchase of commercial items will include appropriate safeguards to protect taxpayer interests.

Angela Styles, Administrator

Office of Federal Procurement Policy

Office of Management and Budget

Steve Kelman replies: It is heartening that, as a result of massive pressure from inside and outside the government, OFPP has abandoned its earlier intention to ban T&M contracts under the GSA schedules, though the devil will remain in the details regarding the nature of the taxpayer protections that may be sought.

If Styles had stuck to making this point, I would have nothing to add to her letter. Unfortunately, her statement that OFPP never had any plans to do so is simply contrary to OFPP documentation and to accounts presented by numerous people within the government, including administration political appointees. And the arcane legal argument to which her letter refers was not part of OFPP's original case for the change it had sought.

Where Are the Geniuses?

I have worked for NASA contractors for about 25 years and can't remember ever meeting a NASA genius ["NASA sizes up genius shortage," FCW, July 29].

The technical people I see are contract monitors. They monitor my work to ensure that it meets or exceeds their requirements, but they don't solve the problems nor do they develop the hardware or software. With apologies to Jacqueline Simon [American Federation of Government Employees public policy director], top engineers and scientists thrive on challenges. It means more to them than stability, support or continuity.

In the early days of the space race, NASA employees did much of the technical work. Government engineers designed equipment or instruments and government shops turned out the prototypes. Today, this work is contracted out. Then, an engineer might leave private industry, join NASA for a few years and move on to a contractor. Today, we have laws prohibiting that sort of behavior.

It would take a major cultural shift at NASA to turn the organization around. I'm not sure this is possible, much less feasible. Young engineers stay a few years and leave. Their ambitions are not compatible with NASA's bureaucratic mind-set.

Joel Altman, Lockheed Martin Corp.

Following is a response to an FCW.com poll question that asked, "Does a consulting firm lose its objectivity if it's owned by a product manufacturer?"

Losing Objectivity

As a project manager in the Air Force and the civilian sector for many years, I found that the sad fact was that consultants who worked for companies that also did production almost never gave you true, unbiased guidance. More than 95 percent of the time, those consultants tried to steer me to their own companies' products as the "ultimate solution," even when, to an unbiased observer, that was definitely not the best alternative.

Gale Hamilton, U.S. Air Force, retired

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