Have contracting skills, will travel

Some lawmakers want to take from agencies that are rich in acquisition employees and give to those that are poor. A provision in a fiscal 2008 spending bill for the Defense Department could make it happen.

The language would require the General Services Administration to send 600 contracting officers to DOD on a temporary basis to provide much-needed procurement oversight. DOD’s acquisition workforce has decreased by tens of thousands since the 1990s, and despite its recent efforts, DOD hasn’t hired enough contracting employees to match its needs.

The House has begun debating the $459.6 billion appropriations bill that includes the provision. The Senate has not yet released its version of DOD’s spending bill.

The House bill would provide $21 million for GSA to support DOD’s procurement efforts. The bill would also reduce funding for contracted services by 5 percent in anticipation of savings from improved management and oversight.

From 2000 to 2005, the cost of managing and overseeing DOD’s service contracts increased by more than 73 percent, but oversight decreased, the committee noted in a document related to the Defense appropriations bill.
“We desperately need some contract expertise and some oversight,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), who wrote the procurement provision. “We’re beefing up the Defense Department’s capability of hiring people itself and training them.”

Many of the contracts that are contributing to DOD’s procurement boom do not require military expertise, Moran added. By using GSA’s contracting specialists, DOD can free its own contracting officials to manage specialized military contracts.

The House Appropriations Committee recommended that DOD and GSA sign a memorandum of understanding for temporary assignment of the GSA contract specialists to DOD on a reimbursable basis.

GSA employees will need time to get acquainted with DOD’s culture and buying habits, said Chip Mather, a partner at Acquisition Solutions and a former Air Force contracting officer. The notion that “a contracting officer is a contracting officer is a contracting officer doesn’t always work,” he said.

The House spending bill would also require DOD to prepare a report identifying its acquisition workforce needs. Other provisions in the bill would reduce payment of award fees to contractors who fail to meet contractual requirements. The bill would hold 10 percent of the management and oversight funds until DOD submits a report to Congress on outsourcing. The report requirement was included in legislation for supplemental spending for Iraq this year.

The House bill substantially increases the money going to oversight officials to curb contract waste and abuse. Moran said contracting oversight positions have been reduced by as much as 50 percent in the past five years.

The House bill would give DOD’s inspector general $239.9 million, a $24 million increase. The committee said the money would raise the number of staff members in the IG’s office to address a growing workload of investigative cases. The Defense Contract Audit Agency would get a $12 million increase, making its total budget $408 million. In addition to audits, the agency provides accounting and financial advisory services related to contracts and subcontracts.

The bill would increase funding by $17 million for the Defense Contract Management Agency, bringing its budget to $1 billion. DOD reduced the agency’s workforce by 50 percent from 2000 to 2005, which have made it more difficult to provide adequate oversight of contracted services, the committee said. The new funding would help build a well-trained workforce.

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A call for contracting officers to help out in crisesWith emergency contracting a top priority, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy wants contracting officers to join a cadre of workers trained to help in crises.

The Homeland Security Department and the General Services Administration are ramping up efforts to have contracting officers ready for emergencies, OFPP Administrator Paul Denett wrote in a July 30 memo. Denett wants more volunteers.

“This supplemental cadre will be available to support any agency needing additional contracting personnel to support an emergency,” Denett wrote. He added that employees who have done the work have enjoyed it.

The contracting deployment is voluntary and generally limited to 30 days, he said.

— Matthew Weigelt

NEXT STORY: Bush approves 9/11 bill

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