TSA's nonstandard acquisition system draws questions

After questioning the Transportation Security Administration’s need for a nonstandard acquisition system, lawmakers introduced new legislation to keep watch over the agency’s procurement process.

Introduced by Rep. Chris Carney (D-Penn.) and Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the bill would increase transparency in the agency’s acquisition process.

TSA uses the Acquisition Management System (AMS), developed by the Federal Aviation Administration in the late 1980s, to handle acquisitions. But most federal agencies use the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) system, which mandates full and open competitions and oversight from the Government Accountability Office.

“AMS allows TSA to manage competitions and focus on firms most likely to receive an award,” said Richard Gunderson, assistant administrator for acquisition at TSA.

“If the FAR is good enough for the overwhelming majority of the federal government, why not for TSA?” Carney askedat a hearing today before the House Homeland Security Committee’s Management, Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee.

Contracting experts at the hearing said this process adversely affected competition by confusing smaller businesses.

“Multiple systems present a daunting task, particularly to small businesses,” said Alan Chvotkin, counsel and senior vice president of the Professional Services Council.

He said TSA should be under the same set of regulations as the rest of the Homeland Security Department to maintain consistency for oversight and eliminate any contractor confusion.

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