Waxman continues call for procurement reform

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), continues to assail agency procurement practices, calling for increased oversight of contractors by federal employees.

Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said today that private-sector workers have become a shadow government, and agencies need to hire more people to manage them.

“Lockheed Martin is the largest government contractor and receives more federal money than the Interior and Commerce departments and Congress combined,” Waxman said at a discussion on competitive contracting in Washington sponsored by the Center for American Progress. “Procurement spending has grown two times as much as the rest of federal spending and the waste, fraud and abuse is rising.”

Waxman has held six hearings since February to examine waste, fraud and abuse, and he plans to hold more over the next six months. Among those six, the committee has looked at the General Services Administration’s renewal Sun Microsystems’ schedule contract despite concerns by the agency’s inspector general; a planned sole-source contract to GSA administrator Lurita Doan’s friend and alleged violations of the Hatch Act. The committee also examined the Homeland Security Department’s two largest contracts—the Secure Border Initiative and Deepwater.

The committee is also investigating how many contractors work for DHS. Waxman said agency officials could not answer that question so the committee launched an investigation to figure it out.

“We will not contract this out, I can assure you,” Waxman said.

Waxman said a big part of this problem is the diminishing federal acquisition workforce.

Angela Styles, a former administrator in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and now a partner with the law firm of Crowell & Moring, said between 25 percent and 50 percent of the workforce has left government since the 1990s.

“With the loss of the acquisition workforce and enormous increase in procurement spending, it is not surprising to see a lot people taking shortcuts,” said Margaret Daum, counsel for the committee.

Waxman said his recent legislation passed by the House, the Accountability in Contracting Act, requires 1 percent of federal spending to be set aside for training in order to increase oversight and management. Daum said the bill likely will be attached to the Defense Authorization legislation because the Senate has yet to act on it as a stand-alone measure.

Scott Lilly, a senior fellow with the center, added that he wasn’t sure the acquisition workforce could be fixed.

“It is hard to get people to stay in government with the right skill sets because the pay gap is wide,” he said.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, said many of the reforms of the 1990s caused the lack of oversight and the thinning of the workforce. She said Congress should consider rolling back the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act and the Federal Acquisition Reform Act.

“What went wrong is when we started reinventing government and using the streamlined model,” she said. “When we elevated speed over best price is when the problems started.”

Styles said the government should not always act like a business because the pressures are not the same.

“The status of contracting requires fundamental reforms of contracting practice,” Waxman said. “The reforms will not go far without a group of government employees overseeing contractors.”

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