Contracting accountability emphasized

The Office of Management and Budget is striving to increase competition among government contractors, placing an emphasis on accountability and small-business participation, according to Angela Styles, administrator of OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Accountability, she said, is "a theme that is consistent throughout this administration. One of the best ways to hold people accountable is competition."

Styles, who spoke today at a Washington, D.C., seminar sponsored by the Coalition for Government Procurement, said her office is working on several initiatives intended to encourage competition, including proposed changes to contract bundling rules that are expected to be published Jan. 31.

She also pointed to proposed changes to OMB Circular A-76 that would bring in private- sector business to compete for work that agencies commonly carry out internally or through agreements with other agencies.

Some past efforts to spur public/private competition have faltered because businesses found the process too burdensome, she said.

"Though we will be going to be pushing the agencies to do this," Styles said to the audience, mostly composed of contractors, "we need you to participate."

Her office also is pushing to increase accountability in the use of purchase and travel cards, she said. Agency staff members who use the cards should consider factors such as whether a retailer offers a government discount.

"Just because it's only $20 million in a $3 trillion budget doesn't mean it's not a very important issue from where we stand," Styles said.

OMB also wants to make it easier for small business to take part in contracting. The Bush administration released a small-business agenda last year that champions greater small-business participation in government contracting, she said.

In line with that, Styles' office is working to require an annual recertification of small businesses so that a large company cannot take advantage of small-business contract vehicles that it started using when it was much smaller.

The proposed changes to contract bundling rules also are part of the Bush administration's strategy, which comes amid growing concern about contract bundling—the practice of awarding one contract to a large company, covering goods and services that could also be provided on several smaller contracts by smaller companies.

"We have seen a dramatic decline in the number of businesses that are participating in our system, 26,000 in 1991 to 11,000 last year," she said. "We're not getting the best services or products for our agencies. We have to ensure that our system is friendly to the people, that when they come in they feel that they have a fair shake. There are a whole lot of things in the way of that right now."

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