Acquisition angst to continue

A panel of federal procurement leaders today identified several measures now in Congress as likely sources of continued agency anguish about acquisition rule changes.

The panel discussion was part of the E-Gov conference in Washington, D.C.

Chief among those measures is the Acquisition System Improvement Act (ASIA) that Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) introduced in April. ASIA is a follow-up to Davis' Services Acquisition Reform Act, most of which was passed into law last year.

Only two elements of the bill were incorporated into the House version of the Defense authorization legislation, but the other provisions are still alive. The elements not added to the Defense bill are among ASIA's centerpieces, including extended authority for share-in-savings contracting, an exchange program for industry and government procurement officials and changes to the contract appeals process.

Share-in-savings advocates say that the approach, in which vendors bear the costs of a project and then are paid a share of the money they save for their customers, would provide companies with a potentially higher payoff and agencies with lower costs.

However, it will be important for agencies to master the nuances, said Matthew Blum, senior attorney at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

"There has to be a clear understanding of outcomes," he said. "Agencies really do need to develop sound business cases."

Blum also spoke briefly about the growing interest in time-and-materials contracting, in which agencies pay a variable cost based on the materials a vendor uses and the time the vendor spends, rather than a fixed price.

Agencies are supposed to document reasons why other contracts are unsuitable before using a time-and-materials contract, he said. "We have to actually go through the hoops of determining why," Blum said.

William Woods, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the General Accounting Office, said some in Congress are becoming concerned about agencies using contracts to procure things that go beyond the scope of the contract. Last year, some regional offices of GSA's Federal Technology Service were revealed to have used information technology funds inappropriately. More recently, CACI International Inc. may have provided prison interrogators to the government through a contract not meant for that purpose.

"This is an important issue for the administration," Woods said. "They want to get some control over this. It's an important issue for Congress. They don't understand why procurement reforms of the '90s led to the proliferation of contract vehicles in the first place, and why [Defense Department] has to turn to other agencies to do procurement."

Indeed, other pending legislation would limit DOD officials' ability to use contracts from non-Defense agencies, said John Brosnan, senior procurement counsel for the House Government Reform Committee, which Davis chairs.

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