Contracting associations object to new acquisition bill

Letter to Rep. Waxman, Rep. Davis (.pdf)

Nearly a dozen government-contracting associations have objected to contracting oversight legislation that would require quarterly reports on contracting charges and restrictions on cost-reimbursement contracts. The organizations contend the bill puts all contractors in a bad light.

Moreover, the 11 associations forming the Acquisition Reform Working Group believe they had no chance to give input on the bill because it was introduced on a Tuesday and approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a Thursday. The full House could vote on the measure next week, according to the Information Technology Association of America.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the committee’s chairman, introduced the Accountability in Contracting Act March 6. He said the measure would change acquisition law to require agencies to limit the use of abuse-prone contracts, increase transparency and accountability in federal contracting, and protect the integrity of the acquisition workforce.

One section of the bill would require each agency to give quarterly reports listing audits of more than $1 million in contractor costs, the dollar amount of costs in question and those costs’ percentage of a contract’s total value. The reports also would include audits showing any deficiencies in contractor performance.

The working group said it agrees with oversight, but the bill “tarnishes the reputation of the vast majority of contractors who consistently provide quality items and services at fair and reasonable prices,” according to a letter sent to Waxman late on March 7. ITAA released it today.

“We are concerned, however, that the language as currently written inappropriately equates routine audit discussions with evidence of wrongdoing,” the letter states.

The group also said restrictions on cost-reimbursement contracts are unnecessary and potentially harmful. Agencies typically use such contracts when uncertainties and risks are high, as in emergency situations when it is not feasible to set a fixed price.

The letter states that similar efforts in the 1980s to restrict these contracts failed, hurting both government and industry. The Federal Acquisition Regulation already establishes detailed criteria for the proper selection for the type of contract.

The underlying problem, however, is the shortage of acquisition workforce staff; the government is having difficulty retaining employees and filling jobs, according to the letter.

“Without adequate attention to the challenges facing the acquisition workforce, no amount of legislative effort will relieve the perceived problems raised in H.R. 1362 [the bill],” the letter states.

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