Conference: Modest gains on acquisition reform not enough

Davis warns of "assault on contractors"

Reps. Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) don't agree on too many issues. But both are in accord when it comes to the value of government contracting reform.

Davis said 2006 "wasn't exactly a banner year for acquisition reform, given the circumstances we faced, with [Hurricane] Katrina and some high-level scandals." Nevertheless, he added, there were some "modest gains" in reform.

Davis said at Federal Sources Inc.'s annual Federal Outlook Conference Thursday that the General Services Administration Modernization Act, which created the Federal Acquisition Service, was a significant achievement. Davis introduced the bill in May 2006. FedSources is a market research firm in McLean, Va.

"This will allow GSA for the first time to offer customer agency solutions consisting of goods, services and information technology in a single acquisition, which makes government buying, in my opinion, much more efficient," he said.

Davis said one of the biggest government acquisition issues has been the lack of a sufficient large, knowledgeable procurement workforce. The new law allows GSA to rehire a limited number of retired procurement officers to help fill some of the gap.

The ranking member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee said he expects the new Democratic-led Congress to take a hard look at outsourcing because organized labor, "and government unions in particular don't like outsourcing."

Davis, taking a swipe at the Democratic majority, said he believes the current Capitol Hill philosophy is to layer more oversight over everything and then blame the contractor when costs increase and projects aren't delivered on time.

"Our philosophy of contracting, at least mine is, you get the best acquisition officials you can find," he said. "If you give them a tool box of different contracting vehicles so that they can decide what's best for the government, and you train them well and allow them to do their job, if you do that right ? they will make a mistake once in a while ? but most of the time you're going to get a good outcome."

He said one of the aspects of the new contracting bill that passed the House in the supplemental appropriation "calls for layers on layers of reporting mechanisms." And he predicted Hill committees will hold dozens of hearings on contracting practices that could become "an assault on contractors."

Government contracting desperately needs oversight and reform, especially regarding the contracting workforce and small-business support, Moran said.

He intends to include such changes in the fiscal 2008 Defense appropriations bill. Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's Defense Subcommittee put Moran in charge of working on the reforms.

His main concern is that as the number of contracts grows, the number of contracting officers shrinks. "The biggest problem we have now, as far as I am concerned, is ? the number of contracting officers is half of what they were six years ago," Moran told the FedSources conference. "The number of contracts is twice as much."

More government employees should be scrutinizing contracts, Moran added. "We have got, as far as I am concerned, to move people from the private sector into the public sector to provide those inherently governmental functions," he said.

Matthew Weigelt, a reporter with Federal Computer Week, an 1105 Government Information Group publication, contributed to this story.

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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