Byrd pushes for more procurement people

If a proposed amendment to the 2005 Defense Authorization bill makes its way successfully through a conference committee, the ranks of Defense procurement officials could swell significantly during the next three years.

Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) introduced the amendment yesterday during the Senate debate on Defense spending. "An impenetrable fog hangs over government contractors, clouding the process by which taxpayer funds are awarded and spent," Byrd said. "Nowhere is the issue of federal procurement more clouded, more obscured from public scrutiny than in the Defense Department."

Byrd proposed that in 2005, DOD hire 5 percent more procurement officials than it had as of Sept. 30, 2003, 10 percent more in 2006, and 15 percent more than the 2003 baseline in 2007.

The amendment includes a provision that gives the Defense secretary the power to hire fewer procurement officials if "the secretary determines and certifies to the congressional Defense committees that the cost of increasing such a workforce to the larger size...would exceed the savings to be derived from the additional oversight that would be achieved."

Byrd described stories about mismanagement, improper oversight and awarding contracts that weren't properly competed as a "grotesque litany of negligence and greed."

"The problem is attributable, in part, to the Draconian staff cuts in the federal acquisition workforce," he said. "These are the civil servants who analyze proposed prices on bids, who keep tabs on cost overruns, who commit contractual fine print to memory so they can make sure requirements and standards are met. Since 1989, the number of these civil servants has been cut in half — one of the most dramatic reductions in the entire federal workforce since the end of the Cold War."

The problem, he said, lies in the fact that contractors have no incentive to contain costs, but do have a marked financial incentive to inflate them. As such, the "lack of oversight" makes it impossible for members of Congress to have an accurate picture of Defense spending.

Senators approved the measure, but their version of the Defense Authorization bill will have to reconciled with the House's version in conference committee before going to the president.

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