Davis faults Senate, praises GSA reform

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) blamed filibusters in the Senate for Congress’ failure to pass budget appropriations on time. “We pass all the appropriations bills in the House by July 4,” he said. “We just sit and wait on the Senate.”

The 50 or more Senate filibusters this past session were frustrating, Davis told the Government Electronics and Information Technology Association’s Vision Conference today.

He said three consecutive Republican-dominated Congresses, the war in Iraq and well-known scandals are likely to have Republicans paying a price in next month’s elections. “The likelihood in the House is we may see a flip there, which will change policy and funding, but not dramatically.”

No matter which party controls the Senate, he said, it is still a black hole of inactivity. “And you still have the presidential veto for anything that goes too far one way,” Davis added.

Davis, who leads the Government Reform Committee, said he and ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) have a good working relationship despite their different views on procurement issues.

Davis said the government process of spending more than $340 billion a year buying goods and services needs to be simplified and opened to as many vendors as possible, and agency procurement officers should be as informed about the commercial market as possible. “A lot of these procurements fall apart because the government is not sure what it wants,” he said.

“The more vendors we have, the more competition you have and that drives costs and innovation,” Davis said.

“It’s an understatement to say it’s a struggle to get Congress to do the right thing for our acquisition system,” he said, “Why? Keep in mind that you can probably count on one hand the number of members who really understand how this operates.”

He said Congress works narrowly and regionally, with members tending to look at issues from their districts’ points of view. “The end result is instead of an efficient procurement system we get bogged down basically by congressional interference,” Davis said. “We are writing rules up there that are done anecdotally, that are done very parochially, just in time and that bog down a system that otherwise could be very efficient.”

Davis said he could not find fault with the basic acquisition system because the legislative framework with its built-in flexibilities “tends to work OK.”

“But one thing we clearly need is a better-trained acquisition workforce that can make difficult decisions in the face of emergency situations and not worry about putting jobs in jeopardy,” he said. “We don’t want our contracting officers running scared in the face of national disasters or any kind of challenge.”

Davis also called for a new model for contract management based on a properly balanced relationship between agency contracting officials and private industry. “Finding that right balance and having a clear concept of what performance and results are expected is just critical to a successful outcome,” he said.

He said the General Services Administration Modernization Act, which Davis introduced and which was signed into law this month, “is a major step in transforming GSA into the government’s premier source for services and technology. It will allow the GSA to complete its most significant reformation since its inception over 50 years ago and brings the agency into the 21st century.”

The modernization act merged the IT and the General Supply funds into the Acquisition Services Fund. It also combines the Federal Supply Service and the Federal Technology Service into a new Federal Acquisition Service that the Acquisition Services Fund supports.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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