DOD's proposed acquisition rule changes faltering in Congress

Recently, Defense Department leadership asked Congress to change acquisition laws that open the door to systemic abuse – but the House so far has declined to alter the rules. However, a last-minute change of plans is keeping the rule change on the table, throwing the future commercial of-a-type acquisition into question.

DOD gave Congress a number of proposed legislative changes for consideration in the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, and many of them were incorporated. Omitted was a proposal to more narrowly define commercial of-a-type acquisition, designed make it easier for the government to buy everyday items similar to those sold in the private sector.

Now, a late amendment has been offered on the House floor to include changes to U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulation language governing commercial of-a-type acquisition, according to Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president for national Security and procurement policy at TechAmerica. It’s unclear whether the amendment will be considered.

DOD officials have expressed concern about abuse of commercial of-a-type’s looser rules on providing data and competitive pricing. Some commercial of-a-type acquisitions have been modified to the point that they’re no longer adequate for any customer other than DOD, which some say defeats the purpose of the practice altogether.

But opponents of the rule change say it would lock out businesses and prevent the government from taking advantage of the latest technologies, many of which are currently considered commercial.

Under commercial of-a-type rules, companies – typically familiar to DOD buyers – don’t have to provide as much of the detailed pricing data that drives competition and helps DOD determine how much a given item should cost. The idea is that since it’s a commercially available item, the pricing has already been through the process of determining fair market value.

Recently, Shay Assad, DOD director of defense pricing, expressed frustration with the overly broad language, which is part of U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulation.

“This is the number one topic that I get from contracting officers in the field. The issue is when we don’t have a valid basis for comparing what someone’s asking us to pay for a particular product that they’re claiming is an of-a-type commercial item, and the contractors don’t have the pricing data to support their claims,” Assad said at an April 27 event. “We’re addressing this in Congress. We think there should be a change in that definition.”

Abuse of commercial of-a-type acquisition makes it harder for DOD to gauge the right price of a product, but industry has been vocal in its opposition of changing the language.

“Dropping the definition will remove a number of goods and services from the government’s acquisition catalog as commercial items…that includes almost every hardware device the government buys. Smart phones, desktop computers, laptops, tablets – they’re all networked and they all have unique requirements and revisions. They would become ineligible for federal government acquisition as a commercial item,” Hodgkins said.

Those modifications have been accommodated in current FAR rules on commercial of-a-type “to open up the commercial marketplace for the government to take advantage of the innovation and technological advancement in the private sector,” Hodgkins said. “These changes would be using a sledgehammer to kill a gnat.”

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a former staff writer for FCW and Defense Systems.

The Fed 100

Read the profiles of all this year's winners.


  • Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump at a 2016 campaign event. Image: Shutterstock

    'Buy American' order puts procurement in the spotlight

    Some IT contractors are worried that the "buy American" executive order from President Trump could squeeze key innovators out of the market.

  • OMB chief Mick Mulvaney, shown here in as a member of Congress in 2013. (Photo credit Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

    White House taps old policies for new government makeover

    New guidance from OMB advises agencies to use shared services, GWACs and federal schedules for acquisition, and to leverage IT wherever possible in restructuring plans.

  • Shutterstock image (by Everett Historical): aerial of the Pentagon.

    What DOD's next CIO will have to deal with

    It could be months before the Defense Department has a new CIO, and he or she will face a host of organizational and operational challenges from Day One

  • USAF Gen. John Hyten

    General: Cyber Command needs new platform before NSA split

    U.S. Cyber Command should be elevated to a full combatant command as soon as possible, the head of Strategic Command told Congress, but it cannot be separated from the NSA until it has its own cyber platform.

  • Image from Shutterstock.

    DLA goes virtual

    The Defense Logistics Agency is in the midst of an ambitious campaign to eliminate its IT infrastructure and transition to using exclusively shared, hosted and virtual services.

  • Fed 100 logo

    The 2017 Federal 100

    The women and men who make up this year's Fed 100 are proof positive of what one person can make possibile in federal IT. Read on to learn more about each and every winner's accomplishments.

Reader comments

Wed, May 16, 2012

Just take a look at what we pay for simple items like pens and paper. We are required to use a single purchase point on base for all office supplies that charges well over twice as much as what I pay for the same supplies at local stores.

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group