Obama again touches on procurement reform

President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates will soon offer more details on how to reform the federal procurement system, which will include an emphasis on Defense Department contracting, the president said during a news conference.

Obama said March 24 that he and Gates have been searching for ways to offset the more than $1 trillion in debt he and Congress have amassed in Obama’s 65 days in office. Obama said his administration has found ways to save as much as $40 billion through some reforms, a point he made in his speech March 4 when he called contracting reforms a priority for his administration.

Obama again provided no details on reforms in the recent televised news conference, except to say the acquisition changes are “pretty apparent to a lot of critics” yet hard to accomplish.

“I think everybody in this town knows that the politics of changing procurement is tough because lobbyists are very active in this area,” he said, adding that contractors build plants and create jobs across the country. Those plants often get support from House members and senators whose constituents hold those jobs.

Despite upset constituents and members of Congress, DOD and other agencies are losing a lot of money through projects with problems. Many defense contracts' costs increase above the initial estimates by as much as 50 percent while still not working as the projects should, Obama said.

On March 4, Obama discussed a general plan to reform the acquisition process, but many contractors and government officials are skeptical of any significant changes coming from the White House. Many of them have said new procurement policies may come, but changing how agencies' acquisition employees and program managers do their work is where Obama will find real reforms.

Obama has talked about shifting government work away from contractors and bolstering the acquisition workforce to do more government work in-house. He also wants to shift toward fixed-price contracts and increase competition for contracts.

He is intent on finding savings and reallocating agencies’ resources but wants "to make sure that we’re not simply fattening defense contractors,” he said March 24.

About the Author

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

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