House passes bill with contracting reforms

Editor's note: This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. May 28, 2008. Please go to Corrections & Clarifications to see what has changed.

As Congress irons out differences in recently passed supplemental appropriations bills, House members are pushing contracting reforms through another channel to ensure they become law.

On May 22, the House approved an amendment by voice vote to the Defense Authorization bill, which assembles into a comprehensive package at least four contracting reform bills that the House already has passed. Later that day, the House passed the authorization bill, 384-23.

The Clean Contracting amendment, introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, includes language from several measures:

  • The Accountability In Contracting Act. The bill, passed in March 2007, would minimize sole-source contracts, limit the length of certain noncompetitive contracts and require agencies to buy property and services on a competitive basis.

  • The Close the Contractor Fraud Loophole Act. The bill would close a loophole and require contractors performing work overseas to comply with ethics rules.

  • The Contractors and Federal Spending Accountability Act. This measure would require the General Services Administration to create a database that includes information on government contractors so contracting officers can better assess the companies’ work with the government.

  • The Government Contractor Accountability Act. The bill would require some  contractors to reveal their top executives’ names and salaries.

“The egregious procurement practices that have occurred in Iraq and in response to Hurricane Katrina and at the Department of Homeland Security need to be halted,” Waxman said on the House floor May 22. “They may enrich companies like Halliburton and Blackwater but have squandered billions of dollars that belong to the taxpayer.”

He said this Congress is serious about contracting reforms to stop waste, fraud and abuse.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), ranking member on the oversight panel, said offering more resources for the overburdened acquisition workforce would make many of the amendment's reforms avoidable.

“An endless stream of reports, an endless stream of restrictions and limitations really does very little to help our stressed federal acquisition workforce cope with the increasingly complex demands of the federal government for goods and services,” he said.

In light of that, Davis said he supports a workforce fund that Waxman’s amendment would establish. The Acquisition Workforce Development Fund would provide funds for agencies to hire, train and retain the acquisition workforce. It would require agencies to identify needs, such as skill gaps and incentives to keep experienced workers, according to the amendment.

Under the Defense Authorization bill, the fund would be credited with a percentage of total amount agencies spent on services contracts. The credit would increase by 0.5 percent each fiscal year until it reaches 2 percent in 2011, according to the bill. For instance, for every $1 billion agencies spent on services contracts in fiscal 2011, the fund would be credited with $20 million.

Davis said he was concerned about a provision in the amendment that gives the Government Accountability Office officials new authority to interview private individuals employed by government contractors to get information during its audits. It raises questions that haven't been considered, he said, such as what happens when the person doesn’t want to talk.

While the amendment has some merit, Davis said it needs more debate and research.

“In my judgment, it is not ready for prime time,” he said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.


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