Jack Brooks: Titan of IT procurement

For Federal Computer Week's 25th anniversary issue, we highlight some of the people, policies and technologies that have influenced federal IT. Although it is not possible to include all the dynamic and dedicated people who have been or still are a part of this marketplace, we start with some who have left their mark.

Jack Brooks, a Democratic congressman from Beaumont, Texas, so dominated the world of government procurement in the 1980s and early 1990s that those years are often referred to as the Brooks Era.

“It is almost impossible today to imagine a congressman having as much impact on federal procurement as Jack Brooks did in the 1980s,” said Larry Allen, who was president of the Coalition for Government Procurement for 20 years and is now president of Allen Federal Business Partners.

Brooks served for more than 40 years in the House and was the force behind many key pieces of legislation, including the Brooks Act of 1965, which defined federal procurement for three decades and put the General Services Administration at the center of the buying hub; the Competition in Contracting Act of 1984, designed to broaden the field of possible winners; and the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, which sought to limit the paperwork burden imposed on companies and individuals.

“As chairman of the House Government Operations Committee in the 1980s and early 1990s, Jack Brooks wrote the rulebook for how computing and communications technologies were acquired and managed at this critical dawn of the personal computer age,” said Donald Upson, the committee’s Republican staff director at the time who went on to serve as Virginia’s secretary of technology and is now a partner at UpsonVito.

Brooks shepherded the most far-reaching communications contract of its time — FTS 2000 — through award and successful execution, and he ensured the contract’s success by congressionally mandating its use by all federal agencies. As a result, per-minute government telecommunication costs plummeted from 35 cents per minute (in 1987 dollars) to 11 cents and later 7 cents, Upson said.

“FTS 2000 today stands as a poster child of how the government can use its buying power to facilitate innovation and price competitiveness,” he added.

Brooks “was a powerful committee chair in the days when committee chairs wielded much more power than they do today,” Allen said. “No one thought it advisable to be on the chairman’s bad side. He could make an agency’s life miserable.”

In later years, when procurement reform threatened to sweep away the Brooks Act and its GSA-centric structure, Brooks said, “I want to make crystal clear that I am not willing to sit idly by and watch anyone in any branch of government dismantle a procurement structure that has produced so many benefits and has the potential to achieve so many more.”

The Brooks Act was not repealed until 1996 with passage of the Clinger-Cohen Act — two years after Brooks had left public office.

NEXT: Meet the grandfather of federal cybersecurity

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