Williams: Dems' control could mean more oversight

Lobbyist: Democratic takeover of House would kill health IT bills

Jim Williams, commissioner of the General Service Administration's Federal Acquisition Service, said today that he is concerned that the Democrats' congressional control will mean more oversight and scrutiny of government contracting.

"Everybody in the executive branch is just feeling like the oversight is going to be nothing but 'how do we play gotcha,'" Williams said in a speech at Input's FedFocus 2007 conference in Falls Church, Va.

He said oversight benefits the government, and agencies expect it, but an increase in oversight would be misguided.

On the surface, contracting looks like a sea of waste, fraud and abuse, but that perception is based on isolated incidents, Williams said, adding that attention should focus on improving the system overall. For instance, government contracts are squeezing out midsize businesses, and agencies are not doing enough for small and veteran-owned businesses, he said.

The government needs to improve its acquisition workforce and then let employees do their jobs. "I always believe things start first with people," he said.

In September, House Government Reform Committee Democrats, led by ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), listed cleaning up federal contracting as one of their six top priorities.

Committee Democrats said they would reform acquisitions by promoting competition, limiting the use of abuse-prone contracts, increasing contract oversight and disclosure of overcharges, and preventing contractor conflicts of interest, according to the committee's Web site.

That same month, a group called the House Democratic Waste, Fraud and Abuse Truth Squad, led by Waxman, introduced the Clean Contracting Act of 2006. The bill seeks strict limits on noncompetitive contracts, a ban on monopoly contracts and restrictions on the award of no-bid contracts to Alaska Native Corporations.

It also would require an agency to put at least 1 percent of its procurement budget toward contract oversight.

The Nov. 7 elections gave Democrats control of the House, and the Senate appears to be in Democrats' hands, too.

Although the oversight will be there, Jim Krouse, acting director of public-sector market analysis at Input, said the Democrats will make few changes in procurement policy, especially regarding the Defense and Homeland Security departments, as they look toward the 2008 presidential elections.

"You will see a lot of reviews...but they don't want to look like they blew it up," Krouse said.

"You always want to live in interesting times," Williams said. "It's going to be way more interesting the next two years."

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