Davis readies next take on acquisition reform

Government and industry procurement experts have praised legislation designed to advance procurement reforms of the last decade, but they don't agree on what those reforms should be.

A bill drafted by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), called the Services Acquisition Reform Act (SARA), proposes several solutions to problems that many believe are unintended results of procurement reform laws passed in the 1990s. Problems include a perceived lack of competition for government contracts, an inappropriately skilled federal acquisition workforce and some rules that are either too confusing or too stringent.

Davis proposes several solutions to address these and other issues, including a central fund for acquisition workforce training, a new position of chief acquisition officer (CAO) in each agency and increased support for innovative procurement practices such as share-in-savings, which allows agencies to pay vendors for the development of information technology systems with savings that the systems may generate.

Federal and industry experts, who testified at the first hearing on the bill this month, said the concerns are valid, but disagreed on how fixes should be made.

The reforms did not create a bad system, just one that needs to be updated after several years of use, said Angela Styles, administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, testifying at the hearing. For the past few months, Styles has encouraged agencies to offer changes to address the concerns so that Congress does not create barriers to reform.

A CAO would help bring together each agency's acquisition strategy, said Stephen Perry, administrator of the General Services Administration. "There needs to be someone in that type of position," he said.

In the draft of SARA, the CAO would report directly to the head of the agency in a position similar to that of the chief information officer and chief financial officer.

This is consistent with the approach of many leading private-sector com.panies, according to the General Accounting Office. But a one-size-fits-all approach is not flexible enough to work within all agencies, Styles said.

"The most effective placement of such an official is best left to the discretion of an agency head who is familiar with, and ultimately accountable for, mission performance," she said.

The bill will not be introduced until this week, and Davis "is open to compromise on most facets of the bill," said David Marin, Davis' spokesman. For instance, Davis has decided to look at how to give agency heads more flexibility in the placement of the CAO, while keeping the requirement to create the position, Marin said.

"We recognize the unique acquisition needs of each agency," he said. "We also want agencies to be able to appropriately determine and differentiate the duties a CAO would perform while working in cooperation with the CIO and CFO."

The acquisition workforce also clearly needs better and more appropriate training, government officials agreed. Past and future reforms will not work without a workforce that can oversee acquisition and project management.

Several officials expressed concern that Davis' idea of a central training fund may not work because Davis proposes that it be paid for by fees from governmentwide contracts, and vendors and agencies would not want to pay for something that will not directly affect them.

But the fees will be offset by the overall improvement in the performance of all procurements — something that benefits everyone, said Renny DiPentima, president of SRA International Inc. and a representative of the Information Technology Association of America.

All of the comments from the hearing and other ideas on the issues raised by SARA will be considered as the legislation moves forward, Marin said. The bill that Davis will release this week is not intended to be the final word on the changes that need to be made, he said.

"This is why we're introducing the bill at the end of this session — to invite comment so we can develop a consensus package that we can move early next year," Marin said. nSome concerns Officials at a hearing earlier this month raised several concerns about measures in the proposed Services Acquisition Reform Act: Chief acquisition officer. The bill would require that the new position report directly to the agency head. Officials agreed that the position should be high up in the agency structure, but said mandating placement could be too disruptive.

Acquisition workforce training. The bill would establish a central fund, paid for with fees on governmentwide contracts. Officials said training is necessary to improve acquisition, but every agency needs to determine its own needs.

Share-in-savings contracting. The bill would endorse this and other innovative contracting practices. Officials said unproven methods should not be highlighted without further pilots.

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