Does Congress have time to change contingency contracting?

Several senators expressed concern recently that agencies involved in contingency operations overseas were neglecting recommendations to better manage and oversee their work in war zones.

In 2011, the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan issued a series of reports that recommended ways for officials at the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development to keep track of contractors, get better competition for work, and build up their acquisition teams in situations where the urgency of the need can lead to shortcuts.

However, based on a Government Accountability Office report, the agencies hadn’t done enough and were not planning to do more, the senators said.

According to GAO's review, DOD officials have moved ahead on half of the 30 related recommendations the commission has made. The State Department and USAID had each taken action on roughly one-third of the recommendations applicable to them.

The findings of the latest report underscore why Congress needs to pass contingency contracting reforms, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said Aug. 1.

“It’s time to use the road map provided by the commission to completely change the way our government contracts during wartime, to make sure these failures are never repeated and to better protect taxpayer dollars,” she said.

McCaskill is chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Contracting Oversight Subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee.

Officials from the three agencies told GAO that they had taken no action on many of the recommendations because they disagreed with them or because they felt their existing policies and practices were enough.

Of the three, only DOD has set up a senior-level board and a formal process for addressing the commission’s recommendations.

But agency officials didn’t ignore all the commission’s advice. DOD toughened its rules on the oversight of contractor business systems. The State Department issued guidance for drafting determination memos whenever officials believe they might need to suspend or debar a company. And USAID began requiring analyses of projects to make sure the host nation would be able to take over after a certain point.

As a whole, though, McCaskill said the agencies aren’t doing enough to overhaul overseas contracting operations during wartime, and GAO’s findings show that Congress needs to push agencies to make the necessary changes.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), who is the Armed Services subcommittee’s ranking member, and Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) joined McCaskill in saying that the Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act of 2012 (S. 3286) needs to become law to improve wartime contracting.

The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has yet to consider the legislation. Moreover, many recommendations on overseas contingency contracting might be left undone because Congress has so few legislative days scheduled in September that it could be tough to get the work accomplished before the elections.

Reasons for rejection

Here are some of the recommendations from the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan that agencies didn't implement and their reasons for not doing so.

Recommendation: Provide funding for new acquisition management and contractor oversight to reduce the reliance on contractors.

DOD: Considering the recommendation.

State Department and USAID: The acquisition workforce has sufficient expertise and funding already.

Recommendation: Change the reporting structure for the chief acquisition offices.

DOD: Consolidating operations won’t work because many Defense organizations have unique missions.

State: The current arrangement is satisfactory.

USAID: The agency prefers not to make the chief acquisition officer a politically appointed position.

About the Author

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

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