Officials: Reconsider inherently governmental functions

The government should consider revising the definition of inherently governmental functions in acquisition regulations, officials told a House subcommittee March 11.

“There’s a lot of flexibility in how one might define that term,” David Walker, the outgoing comptroller general, told the House Armed Services Committee’s Readiness Subcommittee.

Flexibility in the Federal Acquisition Regulation, which has the statutes for guiding governmental purchases, allows agencies to interpret the term’s definition in many ways, said Shay Assad, director of procurement and acquisition policy at the Defense Department. “It concerns me,” Assad said.
“I do think the time has come when we step back and take another look — a hard look — at how we’re defining 'inherently governmental,' ” Assad said.

Inherently governmental functions are generally define as tasks that private contractors cannot perform. It’s “a function that is so intimately related to the public interest as to mandate performance by government employees,” according to a 1992 policy letter from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Some of those tasks may be sensitive, such as selecting employees for governmental jobs, or decisions may require discretion that only a government official has, such as being a voting member on a source selection board.

At the hearing, Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Texas), the subcommittee's chairman, asked the panelists about the proper roles of government and the private sector in conducting government operations. He said agencies are turning more to contractors to fulfill their core missions, and, as a result, has led to an increasing number of lead systems integrators.

The difficulty lies in determining which of the services that fall between these extremes may be contracted out, according to the OFPP letter.

“One of the things we’re grappling with today is the word ‘balance,' "  said Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), the subcommittee’s ranking member.

Walker said agencies more often are going to contractors as a first resort to meet their needs, instead of considering contracts as one option to accomplish tasks.

Because of the increasing use of contractors, Walker said officials should reconsider a revision, adding, "The time has come to do so.”

About the Author

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

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