More scrutiny of OTAs in defense bill

gears and money (zaozaa19/ 

Lawmakers want more insight into how the Defense Department uses rapid contracting authorities, specifically other transaction agreements or OTAs.

The House Armed Services Committee passed its 2020 defense authorization bill early June 13 with a provision requiring annual reporting to congressional defense committees on prototype projects chosen for an OTA, their purpose, the parties involved and how much was paid.

The proposed reporting requirement makes sense, according to Darryl Scott, Section 809 Panel commissioner and former director at Defense Contract Management Agency.

"I don't know why anyone is surprised," Scott told FCW via phone. "Congress has provided a tool that can speed up the acquisition cycle.... They have oversight responsibilities to make sure that the tools are being used properly."

Scott said the reporting requirements aren't necessarily a bad thing, but rather a natural progression for OTAs as they've become more popular. But it's also important to note, he said, that "Congress has not decided that DOD can't be trusted with OTAs, they've just said now that their use has been expanding, Congress should exercise oversight," while letting people try things out and develop and apply best practices.

The Senate Armed Services Committee's version of the bill echoes that sentiment of agility with a rapid software acquisition provision, requiring "mechanisms and waivers designed to ensure flexibility in the implementation of the authority, including the use of other transaction authority, broad agency announcements, and other procedures."

A HASC staffer told reporters in a June 7 briefing that the provision, which was included in the chairman's mark, would help "ensure there can be a differential between prototyping OTAs and production OTAs."

HASC Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) expressed support for flexible acquisition when talking to reporters June 11 during a Defense Writers Group event.

"It is so long and cumbersome to go through the normal acquisition process that we've developed various workarounds to buy things faster where there's an urgent need," he said. "So it is important for us to have transparency and oversight of these other authorities -- but I want to be careful about limiting them too much because that will send us back to 20 years to get an airplane."

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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