Senate Stalks GSA, Brooks Act

Sen. Cohen has won Senate approval for his procurement reform measure, which would kill the GSA and the long-standing Brooks Act

The Brooks Act will die, the General Service's Administration's role in infotech will disappear and every agency will appoint a chief information officer, according to a procurement bill attached to the 1996 defense authorization bill last week by the Senate.

Sen. William Cohen, R-Maine, inserted his Information Technology Management Reform Act (S. 946) into the 1996 defense authorization bill on Aug. 4.

By improving day-to-day operations and streamlining infotech acquisition, the government could save up to $175 billion over the next five years, Cohen claims.

Even so, the Cohen amendment must be combined with several other acquisition reform measures in the House and Senate and overcome opposition from industry, which fears the loss of the GSA's Board of Contract Appeals.

But because Cohen deleted several measures opposed by industry, "the Cohen measure has broader appeal now," said Ella Schiralli, director of government relations for the Electronic Industries Association, Arlington, Va.

Federal acquisition reform has received wide support from Congress, and the House version of the defense authorization bill includes an amendment based on the Clinger-Spence omnibus procurement reform measure, she pointed out. The Cohen and Clinger-Spence bills don't match exactly, but they will work well together, she said. Cohen's measure has tentative support in the Senate, where it is co-sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich.; William V. Roth Jr., R-Del.; John Glenn, D-Ohio; and Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

Several co-sponsors have expressed reservations about attaching the bill as an amendment without holding more hearings, but say they will support the reform measure because it has been modified to address concerns raised by government and industry representatives.

At press time, Cohen's proposal had been added to the defense bill, which was mired in partisan wrangling over missile-defense plans. The Defense Department legislation currently has many amendments attached, many of which may be dropped to facilitate its passage. Prospects at this point for the Cohen legislation are unclear, but seem to have improved with changes made.

Several industry sources say the elimination of the national CIO and the evolvement of strong agency CIOs have been favorably received, but are concerned over the bid protest system.

Cohen's repeal of the Brooks Act created the most controversial issue remaining in the amendment - the elimination of the General Services Board of Contract Appeals.

The board is widely used by industry to appeal contract awards. The amendment would shift bid protests to the General Accounting Office, which already judges some bid protests.

The amendment also would reduce from 60 to 45 days the time for GAO to decide an information technology protest. Under the GAO's rules, companies protesting a contract award find it difficult to gather evidence and face greater legal hurdles.

Some elements in the GSBCA bid protest procedures should be retained, such as evidence-gathering, said Concklin. Management improvements are needed, but must be balanced to ensure protesters get a fair hearing, he said.

Cohen's measure also turns GSA's information technology procurement oversight roles to the Office of Management and Budget, which is another sticking point for industry.

They want clarification on how the oversight will work. OMB controls government spending, so it theoretically will have the leverage to force improvements in agency management and programs.

This leverage can be used to force agencies to consider often-painful reorganizations that are frequently needed to make the most of new infotech.

Without GSA, agencies will manage their own technology procurements with greater independence, similar to the manner in which they manage their other affairs, said Bert Concklin, president of the Professional Services Council based in Vienna, Va.

Greater agency independence will ensure the extra flexibility needed to help streamline government, said Roger Smith, manager of government business issues for the Washington-based American Electronics Association.

Cohen's measure also creates a Chief Information Officers Council, which will be responsible for coordinating common or governmentwide information technology issues. The council will consist of OMB's deputy director for management, the GSA administrator, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs administrator, and the agency CIOs.

The Cohen measure no longer contains provisions for a national chief information officer. Instead, it gives procurement authority to individual agencies, which will each have CIOs as part of their top-level management team.

A national CIO generated controversy in part because of the fear that concentrating purchasing power and oversight for the entire government in one place would create an inefficient bureaucracy that would be a nightmare to deal with.

The Cohen measure also sets up a streamlined, commercial-style procurement process for infotech. This is intended to cut technology purchases from an average of 49 months to 18 months or less.

The amendment discourages megacontracts and encourages purchases of commercially available computer technology rather than custom-designed systems for the government. Agencies will be required to perform up-front planning and evaluate processes to reengineer them when it is appropriate. The amendment also authorizes the establishment of two pilot projects, one of which will test the Canadian task-order procurement system.

Cohen's measure also eliminated another two other contentious sticking points - the automatic termination of contracts and automatic pay adjustments to contractors based on formulas.

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