Contingency contracting

It is a sign of how well our American government system works that even in times of great crisis, the everyday rules for government operations keep meeting our needs, with little or no modification. The normal rules for government acquisitions and use of property and services function as well in times of disaster as in routine times. But even if there was an extraordinary need, special procedures are already in place for use in an emergency.

Collectively, the special rules for procurement in an emergency are generally known as "contingency contracting." Following the Persian Gulf War, the Defense Department and some civilian agencies reviewed the rules for government contracting and formulated a set of guidelines for use in future emergency operations.

For the most part, normal contracting rules will apply, but complying is made easier. For example, limited competition is always allowed when compelling circumstances preclude full and open bidding. It's just more likely that these circumstances will take place in a crisis.

Similarly, an agency may skip the normal process for publicizing contract opportunities if compliance would unduly hurt the government. Also, agencies may make greater use of oral solicitations, letter contracts and other forms of "un.definitized" contracting actions to speed the start of work in an emergency.

Some special rules also apply in urgent situations. For example, to award and carry out contracts outside the United States in support of military contingency, humanitarian assistance or peacekeeping operations, the simplified acquisition threshold —below which many rules don't apply —is effectively doubled.

Also, DOD and the Coast Guard can contract for clothing, subsistence, transportation and other supplies, even lacking a congressional appropriation, provided notice is given to Congress. This authority was used for Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf. Moreover, upon the president declaring a national emergency, DOD may begin construction projects not otherwise authorized by law to support the armed forces. This authority was used to support Operation Desert Shield, which preceded the Gulf War.

The Pentagon has several large contracts it can use to support both planned and unplanned operations. One of these is the Army's Logistics Civil Augmentation Program, which can provide comprehensive logistics and construction support to a deployed force both within the continental United States and elsewhere. The program has been used to support operations in Somalia and Haiti.

Similarly, the Air Force Contract Augmentation Program can be used to boost military civil engineering functions in support of worldwide contingency planning and deployment operations. And the Navy's Contingency Construction Capabilities program responds to contingencies and natural disasters anywhere. Both programs have been used in U.S. hurricane recovery efforts.

In uncertain times, it is comforting to know that plans are already in place to deal with whatever comes along. n

Peckinpaugh is corporate counsel for DynCorp in Reston, Va. This column represents his personal views.Related links:

(unable to get access to carl's columns for Aug. 27 and Sept. 10)

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