Davis: A-76 sparks partisan discord

LAS VEGAS ? One of the first casualties of the new Congress could be a program designed to create competition around functions performed by the federal government, said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) Wednesday via videoconference at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Davis is the ranking member of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee and a strong proponent of the program known as the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76.

"We think this is a reasonable program to inject competition into the government and to spur along competition," Davis said at the show's government conference. "But unfortunately this has turned into a very partisan issue. It has really bogged down over the last two years. And I think it is likely to get worse under the new Congress as you have many federal employee organizations that don't like this program at all."

Competing interests will likely lead to the demise of the program, Davis said.

"One person's efficiency and one person's inefficiency is another person's profit," he said. "So we get into this game on Capitol Hill where you get very parochial, and I think A-76 could be one of the first casualties of the new Congress."

Despite the gloomy outlook on that program, Davis sees a bright future for IT companies assisting the federal government with things like expanding e-government information sharing and keeping information systems secure.

What kind of oversight the buying process for those programs receives with the new Congress is unclear.

"We spend at the federal level over $300 billion each year buying goods and services from the private sector, and IT is a good portion of that sum," Davis said. "Given this, it is amazing how few members actually take an active interest in fully understanding our procurement system about how these purchases are made."

Davis prefers a process that leans towards allowing government buyers and suppliers to have free reign to arrive at fair deals. Trained government procurement officers should be given the tools to make good deals and then let them loose to do that. Davis is skeptical the new Congress will embrace that approach.

One area Davis expects to see spending because of bipartisan support is around the protection of personal data. Well-publicized data breaches at the Veterans Affairs and Commerce departments have resulted in momentum for legislation aimed at protecting data, he said.

"We're going to continue to push the House to pass legislation requiring that timely notices come forward when there is a data breach of sensitive personal information from a government agency," he said.

The legislation is expected to include strict inventory requirements for government computers and storage devices.

While many members of Congress may not know that FISMA stands for the Federal Information Security Management Act, Davis thinks the new Congress will enforce the act like never before.

"It's not a very well known piece of legislation, but it's a very important piece of legislation because many of us are concerned about security leaks [and] we don't want to wait for the next cyber Pearl Harbor before we find out that our information is secure," Davis said.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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