Davis: Reform's next step

Rep. Tom Davis says his Acquisition Services Improvement Act would help ensure that agencies take advantage of skills in the private sector.

Last year I was proud to see many serious procurement reforms, which I had proposed in the Services Acquisition Reform Act (SARA), become law as part of the Defense Department's annual authorization process.

Permanent training and the creation of appointed chief acquisition officers were included among the SARA provisions adopted.

These important changes will be enormously helpful, but they are not enough. That's why last month I introduced the Acquisition Services Improvement Act (H.R. 4228), or ASIA. This bill represents a vital and logical step in the effort to ensure that the government takes full advantage of the knowledge and skills readily available in the private sector.

ASIA has six major provisions, some of which were in the original version of SARA. Those provisions would:

Create an Acquisition Professional Exchange Program.

Expand share-in-savings initiatives.

Extend the streamlined acquisition procedures for commercial items.

Encourage physical redundancy in telecommunications services.

Authorize agency-level acquisition protests.

Consolidate various boards of contract appeals into just two — one at DOD and one at the General Services Administration.

Professional exchange programs are beneficial to government and industry employees, providing them with invaluable first-hand experiences and insight to bring back to their organizations. If government contract managers are going to learn the best practices of the private sector, what better way to do it than through hands-on experience?

Some critics worry that exchange programs create a revolving door between government and industry, but that is simply not the case. Just like the Digital Tech Corps Act I sponsored as part of 2002's E-Government Act, which created an information technology professional exchange, the program proposed through ASIA has extensive safeguards and reporting requirements to protect the public's interests.

Share-in-savings contracts are another tool that can pay large dividends for the government and taxpayers by encouraging companies to share creative solutions and allowing agencies to lower costs without making large upfront investments. Under these arrangements, which have been used successfully for years in the energy field and with state and local governments, the contractor receives some of the savings achieved, while the agency retains the rest.

Strengthening the less formal agency-level protest process and consolidating the various boards of contract appeals are measures that will go a long way toward improving the efficiency of protests and appeals without removing any protections already provided to participants in our acquisition system.

Acquisition reform is not a subject that grabs many headlines, but it gets at the heart of making the government a better and more efficient service provider. And that should be important to all of us who care about the way government serves its customers: American citizens.

A member of the House of Representatives, Davis (R-Va.) is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

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