New contract oversight proposal raises old feelings

A General Services Administration proposal to give contract oversight to private companies could erode the federal government’s role, said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and it sounds too similar to previous outsourcing proposals he disliked.

According to a June 14 letter from Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, to GSA Administrator Lurita Doan, GSA’s proposal would add acquisition-support services to the Mission-Oriented Business Integrated Services (MOBIS) portion of the Federal Supply Schedule.

Jim Williams, GSA's Federal Acquisition Service commissioner, said GSA will not add the service to the schedule contracts until it meets with Congress to respond to concerns.

This is not the first time GSA has floated a proposal to increase the outsourcing of contract oversight. In December 2006, the agency announced a plan to replace federal auditors working at GSA’s Office of Inspector General with private contractors. Waxman and others objected to it.

In this proposal, the acquisition-support contractors would have important oversight responsibilities, such as writing statements of work, evaluating bid proposals, reviewing offers and drafting task orders. A task order could have contractors performing oversight services and working on the program with the agency, according to a Federal Times report, which Waxman cites in his letter.

The proposal concerns Waxman because it creates a risk of significant conflicts of interest and poses a potential for waste, fraud and abuse, he wrote in his letter. He said he does not believe GSA and contractors can weed out all conflicts.

“The committee’s procurement oversight does not generate confidence in the approach,” he wrote. “Over the last six years, federal auditors have repeatedly warned that a large and recurring problem in contract management has been inadequate oversight by federal procurement officials.” Outsourcing could further erode procurement oversight, he added.

Williams said the services would not include oversight of contractors or committing government funds. GSA has also addressed concerns about conflict of interest in its solicitation, he added.

“GSA is looking to help other agencies fill their need for support services to improve contracting,” Williams said.

Republicans have a slightly different take on the proposal.

“As is often the case with the Democrats’ oversight-by-anecdote, there’s both wisdom and inanity in the chairman’s letter,” the committee’s Republican staff director, David Marin, wrote in an e-mail message.

“On the one hand, simply adding these types of support services to the MOBIS schedule doesn’t mean much…. On the other hand, the chairman is right to be asking some questions about the proliferation of these contractor-provided services,” he wrote.

Marin said the Republicans recognize the need to outsource the oversight function because of a shortage of federal employees with sufficient training, but the contracts must be managed carefully.

“That’s where our committee can play a constructive role,” Marin wrote.

Waxman requested a briefing on the proposal before June 29, according to the letter.

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