Officials: Recovery act rules are the future

The strict acquisition regulations attached the stimulus money is a foretaste of what agencies and contractors can expect for the future, several government officials said in speeches April 23.

The law, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, has many transparency requirements, a strong emphasis on firm-fixed-price contracts and competition for those contracts, and demands for tracking the money to show what it yields. Procurement officials say these levels of transparency and oversight have never been demanded in such ways, and it’s only the beginning of what’s to come. A precedent has now been set, many experts have said.

“The stimulus is the wave of the future,” Soraya Correa, director of procurement operations at the Homeland Security Department, said at an event hosted by the American Small Business Coalition.

General Services Administration officials who also spoke said the law's requirements force agencies to keep a closer tabs on what they spend and how they spend it because the information will be public on Recovery.gov and agencies' own recovery Web sites.

“With revenue comes responsibility,” said Amanda Fredriksen, GSA’s deputy assistant commissioner for general supplies and services.

To boost transparency, the law requires agencies to publicize their bid proposals. Even if an agency buys a product or service from a GSA Schedule contract, the agency has to post a notice on the Federal Business Opportunities Web site for the sake of announcing it, which wasn’t required in the past.

The requirements will also reach into contractors’ books, officials said. Agencies will ask contractors for their spending and subcontracting information. And to remain in GSA’s Schedules program, companies must agree to adhere to the new requirements. GSA officials said companies can expect to hear from the agency soon.

“That means your data is out there,” Correa said to a group of small-business owners, adding that they need to make sure their books are in order and presentable because the information could be posted on the Internet.

David Drabkin, GSA’s acting chief acquisition officer, said the transparency theme has been moving ahead for at least two years. In December 2007, the Office of Management and Budget launched USASpending.gov as part of a law that then-Sen. Barack Obama helped introduce legislation known as the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. While in Congress, he introduced a follow-up, which would have provided more information on the government’s contracting system, but it never became law.

In his same spirit of openness, the stimulus law, which pushes for contracts with nonadjustable prices, requires agencies to share their reasons for why a contract couldn’t be awarded with a set price. In the past, those justifications have stayed within the agency.

“People are going to be able to read the excuse you’re giving, and people are going to hold your feet to the fire,” Correa said. That likely will lead to more discussions between agencies and industry through more draft requests for proposals, in-depth market research and outreach to a broader range of companies, she said.

Drabkin said the stimulus spending reflects President Obama’s March 4 memo on his proposals for procurement reforms, such as greater competition for work, a preference for firm-fixed-price contracts, more transparency from agencies, and a stronger workforce to handle the immense amount of contracting work flooding into agencies.

About the Author

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

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