House OKs acquisition staffing fund

Contracting clean-up

A House version of the fiscal 2009 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 5658) includes provisions to eliminate fraud and abuse in contracting and increase competition among contractors. Those provisions are part of the Clean Contracting amendment, which Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, introduced. Waxman’s amendment contains language from four measures the House has already passed.

1. The Accountability in Contracting Act would reduce the number of sole-source contracts, limit the length of certain noncompetitive contracts and require agencies to buy property and services on a competitive basis.

2. The Close the Contractor Fraud Loophole Act would require contractors performing work overseas to comply with ethics rules.

3. The Contractors and Federal Spending Accountability Act would require the General Services Administration to create a database of information to help contracting officers assess companies’ past performance on government contracts.

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

— Matthew Weigelt

Recognizing that mismanagement is a significant problem in government contracting, Congress has turned its attention to the acquisition workforce as a way to reduce contracting waste, fraud and abuse. Some lawmakers have proposed creating a fund that agencies could use to hire, train and retain acquisition professionals, who are in short supply.

In the House version of the fiscal 2009 Defense Authorization bill (H.R. 5658) passed May 22, lawmakers included a provision for an expanded version of a Defense Department acquisition workforce fund that would pay for agencies to hire more acquisition employees. The fiscal 2008 acquisition bill set up a similar fund but only for DOD.

Under the new proposal, the amount in the fund would be a percentage of the total amount agencies spend on services contracts. It would start at 0.5 percent and increase by 0.5 percent each fiscal year until it reaches 2 percent in 2011.

The government outsourced significant portions of defense acquisition work for years. It now faces challenges in bringing much of that work back in house. “We are lacking in almost every capability that we need to have” in DOD, said Peter Levine, general counsel for the Senate Armed Services Committee.
 
Congress urged DOD in the mid-1990s to have contracting officials examine all interagency agreements to determine whether DOD could handle them. Department officials said it was impossible because DOD had too few acquisition employees, Levine said. That occurred when there were fewer contracting agreements between agencies and DOD’s acquisition workforce was larger, he added.

The government needs to take back critical oversight and other inherently governmental functions, Levine said. “We do think we’ve gone too far in bringing contractors to perform oversight of other government contractors,” he said.

Contractors have also been involved in developing contract requirements and performing evaluations, he added.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said egregious contract abuses warrant the oversight provisions.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the committee’s ranking member, said reforms to keep a closer eye on contractors and limit certain types of contracts, such as sole-source, no-bid and cost-plus contracts, could all be avoided if the government had a larger and better-trained acquisition workforce. 

Government data shows that the acquisition workforce has been growing but at a much slower rate than federal spending. The number of contracting specialists, an important subset of the acquisition workforce, grew from 26,608 in 2001 to 28,434 in 2007 — about a 9 percent increase, according to the Federal Acquisition Institute. However, federal spending soared from $235 billion in 2001 to $415 billion in 2006, according to government data. 

About the Author

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

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