Clinger-Cohen? A work in progress

While overshadowed by the news that the Defense Department once again is buying the equivalent of gold-plated screws, two watchdog agencies have turned up evidence that agencies have been using multiple-award task-order contracts to circumvent competition and to funnel business to favored vendors. The culprit, we are told, is procurement reform.

While we are not inclined to ignore the serious findings of the General Accounting Office and the DOD inspector general, neither are we inclined to throw in the towel on procurement reform. Passage of the Clinger-Cohen Act and other reforms set the stage for revolutionary changes in the way government procures equipment and services; however, it is clear that these changes will come about in an evolutionary manner.

The challenges of managing and using multiple-agency, multiple-award task-order contracts are well-documented. Government and industry leaders have expressed concern that agencies, busy competing with each other for information technology business, could make it too easy for buyers to direct awards to selected vendors.

We hope this does not result in "blaming the victim," which in this case is procurement reform itself. Perhaps what is wrong with the system is not the reforms, but how agencies interpret the reform's new rules, regulations and guidelines. In giving agencies and procurement personnel more leeway in making decisions and a larger palette from which to choose, the important role of formal guidelines seems to have gotten lost.

The spirit of Clinger-Cohen and other reform laws is still laudable and worthy of pursuing. But like any reform, changing the procurement system is a process, and it will require continual tinkering.

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