Agencies warned on acquisition rules

During the coming year, agencies must ensure that they fully understand and comply with acquisition regulations in order to forestall action from Congress that could take away all the benefits of reform, federal officials said Feb. 12.

Last year, Congress proposed several pieces of legislation to counteract the lax management of competition on multiple-award contracts. Many in Congress, the General Accounting Office, and past and current administrations have expressed concern that agencies are bypassing the competition rules in favor of quick awards.

At least two watered-down provisions to address this problem at the Defense Department made it into law in the fiscal 2002 Defense Authorization Act. The Services Acquisition Reform Act, introduced last year by Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, has both supporters and detractors for its efforts to clarify the acquisition environment.

These actions in Congress make it clear that agencies must take seriously the threat that "if you don't follow these rules -- they're simple rules -- you're going to lose the tools," said David Drabkin, deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy at the General Services Administration.

"The fact that some people didn't [follow the rules] and they were found out by the [inspector general] at DOD and by GAO...has caused a reaction," Drabkin said at the GSA Federal Supply Service's Professional Services Expo in Washington, D.C.

Acquisition reform did produce many concrete benefits, such as the ability to procure necessary goods and services within hours and days instead of weeks and months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said Angela Styles, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

But there are still a number of agencies in "the procurement backwater" that do not understand how to use the tools and regulations offered by acquisition reform, she said. This became evident after Sept. 11, when OFPP had to assign members of its staff to help agencies that did not have the acquisition expertise needed to function in that environment, she said.

"I think it's time for people to learn the flexibilities we have from acquisition reform," she said.

GSA will be increasing the number of education and training options available to agencies, said Donna Bennett, FSS' commissioner.

The Office of Acquisition Policy also will be doing everything it can to get more involved with agencies' training and questions, "and preventing further legislative help from our colleagues on the Hill," Drabkin said.

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