Veto of DOD authorization bill delays new procurement rules

Several major acquisition changes are on hold, including giving contractors the ability to protest task orders worth more than $10 million, after President Bush vetoed the Fiscal 2008 Defense Authorization bill last week.

The White House’s primary concerns have little to do with contracting provisions, and mostly about Section 1083, which opens Iraq and other countries to lawsuits and possibly having their assets frozen because of alleged torture, injury, death or other harsh treatment of American citizens. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), sponsored the amendment.

Bush vetoed the measure “because particular provisions included in that bill unacceptably interfere with the political and economic progress everyone agrees is critically important to bringing our troops home,” said a senior administration official during a call with reporters last week.

The official added that the provision would pose financial risks to Iraq that would interfere with its reconstruction efforts and tie up billions of dollars that U.S. troops in the field rely on for security efforts.

The administration’s decision to veto the legislation surprised lawmakers, said Lara Battles, spokeswoman for the House Armed Services Committee.

“We didn’t see this coming until after the conference report passed both houses of Congress,” she said. “This was something the White House brought up later.”

White House spokesman Tony Fratto disagreed with Battles’ characterization that administration officials didn't raise concerns during debate of the bill. In the press conference with reporters, Fratto said the officials raised the issue throughout the legislative process.

“I think we were -- I think it's safe to say that we were somewhat surprised by the -- that the final language was as it was in the bill, as it came out, and also learned a great deal since then what the consequences -- the full extent of the consequences of the language would be,” Fratto said.

Meanwhile, White House officials and members of Congress have pledged to solve the impasse.

Battles said there have been initial conversations about how to get Bush to sign the bill, but she didn’t expect anything to be done until Congress returns from the holiday break. The House returns Jan. 15 and the Senate, which has been having pro forma sessions for the past two weeks, will start in earnest Jan. 22.

Battles said the White House’s concerns about Section 1083 will hold up a 0.5 percent pay raise on top of Bush’s proposal of 3 percent for troops.

She also said the Wounded Warrior Act, which seeks to improve medical care for wounded troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, would also be delayed.

The other contracting provisions that now are on hold also include a requirement for agencies to justify publicly their decision to use methods other than full and open competition, the creation of an associate administrator for acquisition workforce programs in the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and making permanent the Acquisition Workforce Training Fund.

There also are some DOD-specific acquisition provisions that are delayed, including the prohibition of the use of lead system integrators, the establishment of a $300 million acquisition workforce training fund, a study by the Defense Science Board on information technology acquisition, and new reporting requirements for DOD officials who leave to work for defense contractors.

Lawmakers and the White House hope to fix the bill in the near future.

“The problem has been identified; we believe we'll be able to find a consensus solution with Congress, and to move forward and to get this fixed before it becomes law,” the senior administration official said.

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