Congress softens DOD buying constraints

Lawmakers last week may have reached a compromise on controversial procurement provisions that would have made it virtually impossible for the Defense Department to use multiple-award contracts.

The Senate/House conference committee was negotiating Nov. 9 the final version of the fiscal 2002 Defense authorization bill, and those familiar with the talks said conferees had agreed to a compromise on the procurement meas.ures. The conference committee is expected to complete its work this week, a staff member for the House Armed Services Committee said.

The Senate's version of the Defense authorization bill included two provisions that attempt to cut down on the practice of agencies using multiple-award contracts to avoid competition and to sole-source task orders from those government.wide acquisition contracts (GWACs) to specific vendors.

The provisions, "as originally written, would have largely eliminated DOD usage of the [General Services Administration] schedules and other GWACs," said David Marin, a spokesman for Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), a member of the Senate/House conference committee.

Section 803 would have required DOD contracting officers to compete all task orders of $50,000 or more among all eligible schedule contract vendors. The other provision, Section 801, would have required that a newly created DOD GWAC czar approve all GWAC buys.

The proposed compromise language removes the "full-competition" requirement and instead directs DOD contracting officers to get bids from at least three vendors, said a House staff member familiar with the compromise language. If they fail to get three bids, contracting officers will have to document why and show that they made a reasonable effort to do so.

The proposed language for Section 801 puts in place "good oversight measures," said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington, D.C., industry group. Still, Allen said, the new language could encourage protests and slow the procurement process.

Steve Kelman, a professor of public management at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, said the compromise is a good step forward, but added that the early language should be a wake-up call for GSA and GWAC managers that they need to manage these contracts better.

"These vehicles allow government streamlined competition. Both of those are important — both streamlined and competition," he said. "Keeping it competitive is not a bureaucratic requirement.... It really is in the interest of agency programs and agency missions."

Guarding reform

A Senate/House conference committee last week agreed to change provisions in the fiscal 2002 Defense authorization bill that procurement experts believe would have made information technology buying too burdensome.

Some of the changes include:

* Directing DOD contracting officers to obtain bids from at least three vendors instead of all possible vendors.

* Removing products from the requirements and focusing on service buys.

* Raising the minimum purchase amount — from $50,000 to $100,000 — for the requirements.

* Requiring military services to designate a service procurement manager.

* Requiring DOD to track service buys.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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