Agencies say 'No mas' to wartime contracting reforms

The Defense and State departments and USAID have followed some recommendations of the Wartime Contracting Commission, but now say they don't want to do more. But some senators want to make the changes mandatory.

Three agencies dealing with contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan have yet to implement the majority of management recommendations that came from Congress’ wartime contracting commission and now some leading senators are pushing for tougher action, according to a new report.

But the agencies are telling auditors that they do not see a need to go any further.

The Defense Department has moved ahead on half of 30 DOD-related recommendations that the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan suggested in its reports. The commission had 27 recommendations for the State Department and 25 recommendations for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Those two agencies have each taken action on roughly a third of their recommendations, the Government Accountability Office reported Aug. 1.

For instance, DOD toughened rules on the oversight of contractor business systems. The State Department issued guidance on drafting a determination memo each time officials recognize a need to potentially suspend or debar a company. USAID began requiring analyses of projects to make sure the host nation would be able to take over after a certain point.

However, the agencies believe that other recommendations are unnecessary. Officials from the three agencies told GAO they took no action on the remaining recommendations because they have policies and practices that already met the intent of the recommendations in some cases. For instance, the agencies said they didn’t expand authorities or elevate the positions of officials in charge of contingency contracting because, they say, their organizational structures already meet the intent of the commission’s recommendation, with officials in senior positions having authority over contingency contacting.

 In other cases, the agencies said they disagreed with the recommendations.

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

GAO undertook the study at the request of three senators -- Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

McCaskill, chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, said the agencies aren’t doing enough to overhaul overseas contracting operations during wartime. GAO’s findings show that Congress needs to push agencies to make changes, she said.

“If federal agencies aren’t going to take action to protect taxpayer dollars against waste, fraud, and abuse, then we’ve got to require them to act,” McCaskill, who is also chairwoman of the Armed Services Committee’s Readiness and Management Support Subcommittee, said Aug. 1. “It’s time to use the roadmap provided by the commission to completely change the way our government contracts during wartime.”

Congress established the commission in 2008 to assess contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan and provide recommendations to Congress to improve the contracting process.

Webb said Congress is at a pivotal moment to reassert good governance and stewardship and it needs to pass the bipartisan Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act (S. 3286). There are eight senators who pledged their support for the bill, including the Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Among other provisions, the bill would elevate oversight responsibilities and improve management structures while also reforming contracting practices during overseas military contingencies. It would require greater transparency and competition, as well as additional provisions for contractor accountability.

Yet, the committee has not considered the legislation. According to GovTrack.us, the legislation has an 18 percent chance of being enacted, based on the seniority and party of the bill’s cosponsors.

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