Nadler: The pendulum swings back

Officials at the General Services Administration and the Defense Department recently launched the "Get It Right" campaign to improve contract compliance and the use of GSA's contracting vehicles.

The initiative is designed to increase accountability in procurement practices and to improve training for those involved in the procurement process. Get It Right has several broad objectives:

Ensuring compliance with federal contracting

regulations.

Making policies and practices clear and explicit.

Ensuring the integrity of GSA's contract vehicles.

Ensuring that taxpayers get the best value when GSA vehicles are used.

Get It Right aims for a zero-deficiency compliance record, and DOD officials have emphasized that accountability will be expected at all levels, including for contractors, who will be responsible for reporting task orders that are outside a contract's scope. This has led some in industry to suggest that the burden of ensuring compliance is being shifted to contractors and that it is unrealistic to expect for-profit companies to turn down out-of-scope orders.

This view, however, seems shortsighted. Cheating diminishes all of us, and taxpayers are entitled to a government/

industry partnership that works toward the common goal of a fair, transparent procurement system. Both parties are

responsible for determining whether an order is within the contract's scope. Some people will always bend the rules, but the government carries a big stick and the threat of enforcement action is a powerful deterrent.

Get It Right is a touchstone event in the evolution of procurement policy and marks a tightening of the reins on the free-wheeling practices ushered in with the acquisition reform movement of the 1990s.

In the 1990s, procurement reform brought important, commercial-based procurement practices and empowered contracting officials with a new level of discretion in the acquisition process. The acquisition reform movement was a reaction to the flurry of legislative efforts in the 1980s to curb sole-source contracting.

The result was a period focused on accountability, transparency and competition, and also inefficiency, excessive oversight and bureaucratic malaise.

Just as Operation Ill Wind highlighted the procurement abuses of the 1980s, the use of an Interior Department information technology contract to provide interrogation services at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq symbolizes the problems in today's procurement environment.

The Abu Ghraib incidents are the most visible example, but abuses have become common and more brazen, including the use of IT contracts to provide family counseling services and to construct an office building, all with minimal or no competition. Orders on single blanket purchase agreements under GSA's schedule contracts essentially are sole-source contracts that can extend for years with a ceiling of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Get It Right reflects that the pendulum has swung too far in the name of acquisition reform. The challenge now is not to swing it back too far in the opposite direction. Time will tell whether GSA and DOD can strike this balance, but this is an important initiative that deserves industry support.

Nadler is a procurement attorney with Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP in Washington, D.C.

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