Carper takes on acquisition in NDAA amendment

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The fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act coming up for debate in the Senate is chock full of acquisition measures to promote the buying of commercial products and encourage new vendors to participate in government contracting.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) has introduced an amendment that seeks to simplify acquisition processes across government and make it easier for agencies to get rapidly advancing technology from innovative commercial providers.

Carper's amendment would help agencies identify "best value solutions" while cutting through some of the procedural details that have bogged down federal acquisitions. Although it is attached to NDAA, the amendment would affect the acquisition process across the government.

Among other things, the measure would bump up the micro-purchase threshold from $3,000 to $10,000, authorize agencies to spend as much as $10 million on pilot programs to bring innovative technologies into their operations and give new suppliers a smoother initial experience with agency projects.

It would also raise the simplified acquisition threshold for projects to $10 million and have each agency's chief acquisition officer assume responsibility for category management activities.

"We buy a lot of stuff in this federal government, and some of the stuff we buy, we pay too much for or we buy the wrong thing," Carper told FCW. "This has been a challenge for years.... We want to make sure that the agencies know what is expected of them when they are buying things, and we want to make sure the taxpayers are getting fair value for those purchases."

Carper's amendment mirrors reforms suggested in a March letter to Vice President Joe Biden from Stephen Hedger, assistant secretary of Defense for legislative affairs.

The amendment also calls for the Office of Management and Budget to issue guidance that addresses data analytics, contract duplication, and the collection and sharing of information on pricing and contract terms.

Trey Hodgkins, a senior vice president at the Information Technology Alliance for Public Sector, said the practices outlined in the amendment would provide initial steps toward more effective federal acquisition practices. However, he objected to codifying category management responsibilities.

Putting the practices into law would require another federal law to change them, he said. In the rapidly changing world of technology innovation, that "could tie government's hands" if more effective practices develop in the next few years.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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