Contracting reform: It comes down to Congress

If there is any hope for signficant changes in government contracting, that hope rests with Congress, several federal officials and former officials said April 25.

To make change, “you give the hammer back to the people that hold the hammer. That would be Congress,” said Herbert Richardson, the acting special inspector general for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Richardson was testifying before the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan regarding the difficulties departments are having with managing their contracts and their contractors. The result has been waste and mismanagement in the contingency operations. And the commission returned to its basic question from its previous hearings: How does the government fix the problems? (Watch the hearing.)


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Richardson and two IGs inspecting the contingency operations there said their employees, auditors and other oversight officials can give recommendations and offer solutions in reports to reoccurring and wasteful programs, but department officials can take or leave those recommendations.

Also, if department officials move on an audit’s recommendations, they will deal with only that area. However, they won’t expand their view to see how the recommended change could be used in other areas of operation, said Daniel Blair, deputy inspector general for auditing at the Defense Department.

If they don’t fix the problems, the IGs go back the next year and often give the departments the same recommendations constant issues.

“Do you ever get the feeling you’re writing the same report over and over and over?” asked Katherine Schinasi, a commissioner and a former Government Accountability Office auditor.

“To correct the institutional shortfalls that are there, I think ultimately will require congressional action,” said Stuart Bowen, special IG for Iraqi Reconstruction.

The contracting commission estimates the government wasted tens of billions of dollars in the roughly $177 billion obligated for federal contracts and grants in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2010.

The commission’s intent is creating a report for Congress on how to deal with contracting problems with waste and mismanagement. The report is due in July.

About the Author

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

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