Group urges OFPP, Congress to dump some SARA panel proposals

A group of industry associations has reiterated its concerns that several draft recommendations put forward by the Acquisition Advisory Panel would cause long delays in acquisition and chill innovation in government services.

The multiassociation group wrote to the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and Congress urging them to reject three of the panel's major recommendations: redefine commercial services, require objectives and requirements before using time-and-materials contracts, and expand task and delivery order protests.

The group formed late last year to coordinate industry's response to the panel, which was mandated by the Services Acquisition Reform Act of 2003 to recommend improvements in government acquisition. The SARA panel, as it is often called, released a draft report of its findings and recommendations in December.

The industry groups are concerned that some of the recommendations, if carried out, would actually roll back past reform efforts.

“Some of the SARA panel recommendations would reverse more than 20 years of bipartisan procurement reform that expanded the federal government’s use of commercial products and services,” said Phil Bond, president and chief executive officer of the Information Technology Association of America, a member of the multiassociation group. “It would be a mistake to roll back so much of that progress.”

For example, to open protests at the task and delivery order level of a multiaward contract would create new delays, add to the burden of short-handed contracting officers and their agencies, and ultimately raise costs to taxpayers, the associations say. The Federal Acquisition Regulation permits such protests in special circumstances. Challenging a contract award is appropriate what it is awarded, according to a press release from the associations.

And they say coming up with objectives and requirements before using time-and-materials contracts contradicts current guidance. Use of the contracts is restricted to instances when requirements cannot be developed sufficiently or when there is not enough time to do it well.

The associations believe this would jeopardize the government's ability to handle critical missions without interruption. The SARA panel notes the danger in its findings, too.

Finally, redefining commercial services would hamper the government from buying services that are similar but not exactly like those the commercial market offers.

On the other hand, the associations agree with the panel’s recommendation on staffing and skill-level shortages in the contracting workforce. Near-term retirements of many experienced federal contracting officials will make this shortage more acute than ever. They consider it to be the most important issue. The group also applauds a recommendation to encourage performance-based acquisition.

They say by better applying existing laws and regulations, competition will increase and confidence in government contracting will be restored, two concerns expressed repeatedly in recent congressional legislative proposals.

The associations in the group include the Aerospace Industries Association, Contract Services Association of America, Electronic Industries Alliance, Government Electronics and Information Technology Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Professional Services Council and ITAA.

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