House considers Accountability in Contracting Act

A contracting oversight bill holds to its original intent of limiting noncompetitive and sole-source contracts and requiring disclosure of justifications for such contracts after two House committees have looked at it.

The Accountability in Contracting Act, approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Armed Services Committee, would prohibit contracts of more than $1 million awarded without competition from lasting more than a year. Agencies would have to award a new competitive contract after that year ends.

Congress also wants agencies to come up with plans and measurable goals to curtail the use of noncompetitive contracts. The bill also emphasizes the use of fixed-price procurement contracts, a slight change from the original language that wanted agencies to avoid cost-reimbursement contracts. That type of contracting leaves pricing open so that contracts can be awarded quickly in situations where speed is essential.

If an agency awards a noncompetitive contract, it would have to make the justification for the move publicly available, according to the bill. The documents would have to be on the agency's Web site and in the Federal Procurement Data System.

The bill also would require quarterly reports on audits, including unjustified or questionable contractor costs and the percentage of their total value of the contract. Moreover, agencies would have to divulge an unredacted copy of any audit a committee requests.

The armed services committee marked up the bill this morning, a week after Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) introduced it. It passed without dissent.

A new provision in the bill would require a governmentwide study of and report on the acquisition workforce. The administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy would study its scope, composition and functions, and then construct a comprehensive definition and method of measuring the size of the workforce.

About a dozen trade associations wrote to Waxman, chairman of the oversight committee, on March 7, saying the workforce shortages are the root of contracting problems. No legislation can fix that, they wrote.

The oversight legislation comes amid a lot of attention Congress has focused on the procurement community and oversight of it. Numerous lawmakers have voiced their concerns about contracting abuses and waste.

"The American people expect government employees to be wise stewards of their federal tax dollars and to be free of conflicts of interest," said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.), in a statement today.

Waxman's committee approved the accountability bill March 8. The House Rules Committee will look at the legislation March 14, according to its Web site.

A Republican Senate staffer called the bill a "shoot-first, ask-questions-later style of reform."

Matthew Weigelt is a reporter with Federal Computer Week, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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