SARA panel looks at ethics

Advisory group prepares to make final recommendations for procurement changes

Acquisition Advisory Panel

In what was likely to be its final meeting, the Acquisition Advisory Panel last week debated and refined recommendations regarding ethics, proprietary information and workforce training. The group, known as the SARA panel because it was authorized under the Services Acquisition Reform Act of 2003, will now write and revise its final report.

The panel issued recommendations related to the blended workforce, the mix of contractor and federal employees who work together on many federal projects.

Marcia Madsen, a partner at the law firm Mayer Brown Rowe and Maw, who is the panel’s chairwoman, said services contractors increasingly support federal missions, which raises serious questions about their role and the relationships between them and federal employees.

In developing its final recommendations, the panel tried to balance the need for agencies to adhere to government ethical standards and the right of companies to set their own standards for their employees, Madsen said.

The panel debated a proposal designed to punish companies and individuals who “repeatedly violate the rules or who exhibit an egregious lack of integrity.” Some panel members felt it was too harsh, while others argued that current suspension and debarment procedures are not sufficient to deal with flagrant repeat violators.

“There are some acts that are so bad they seem to call for more than a temporary ban on doing business with the government,” said Tom Luedtke, NASA’s assistant administrator for procurement. “It’s not just the government that suffers. It’s honest contractors.”

But Roger Waldron, director of the General Services Administration’s Acquisition Management Center, said existing measures are sufficient. “We have a whole framework that already exists. I just don’t think this is necessary.”

The panel ultimately adopted a revised recommendation that urges the government to make full use of tools at its disposal to punish unethical companies.

The Office of Management and Budget created the panel and announced its inception in February 2005. Since then, the panel has divided into several working groups and met periodically to undertake similar debates and issue recommendations.

Once it issues its final set of recommendations, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council could act on the ones that don’t require legislation, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

The panel’s work has drawn some criticism. Earlier this month, a coalition of several trade groups commented on the panel’s recommendations, praising some but sharply criticizing others. Allen, whose organization was not part of that group, said he also has his doubts.

“It remains to be seen whether the SARA panel recommendations — whatever they may be — will ever really see action,” Allen said. Most of the recommendations likely will not meet the vision of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, Allen said. He added that Davis wanted to simplify procurement, not add rules, which many of the SARA panel’s recommendations would do.

“The impact of the SARA panel on procurement just can’t be identified at this point,” Allen said. “I am betting that there will ultimately be less there than meets the eye.”

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