Lawmakers focus on contracting reforms

As Congress irons out differences in recently passed
supplemental appropriations bills, House members are pushing
contracting reforms through another channel to ensure they become
law.



On May 22, the House approved an amendment by voice vote to the
Defense Authorization bill, which assembles into a comprehensive
package at least four contracting reform bills that the House
already has passed. Later that day, the House passed the
authorization bill, 384-23.



The Clean Contracting amendment, introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman
(D-Calif.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform
Committee, includes language from several measures:




  • The Accountability In Contracting Act. The bill, passed
    in March 2007, would minimize sole-source contracts, limit the
    length of certain noncompetitive contracts and require agencies to
    buy property and services on a competitive basis.



  • The Close the Contractor Fraud Loophole Act. The bill
    would close a loophole and require contractors performing work
    overseas to comply with ethics rules.



  • The Contractors and Federal Spending Accountability Act.
    This measure would require the General Services Administration to
    create a database that includes information on government
    contractors so contracting officers can better assess the
    companies’ work with the government.



  • The Government Contractor Accountability Act. The bill
    would require some  contractors to reveal their top
    executives’ names and salaries.


“The egregious procurement practices that have occurred in
Iraq and in response to Hurricane Katrina and at the Department of
Homeland Security need to be halted,” Waxman said on the
House floor May 22. “They may enrich companies like
Halliburton and Blackwater but have squandered billions of dollars
that belong to the taxpayer.”



He said this Congress is serious about contracting reforms to stop
waste, fraud and abuse.



Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), ranking member on the oversight panel, said
offering more resources for the overburdened acquisition workforce
would make many of the amendment's reforms avoidable.



“An endless stream of reports, an endless stream of
restrictions and limitations really does very little to help our
stressed federal acquisition workforce cope with the increasingly
complex demands of the federal government for goods and
services,” he said.



In light of that, Davis said he supports a workforce fund that
Waxman’s amendment would establish. The Acquisition Workforce
Development Fund would provide funds for agencies to hire, train
and retain the acquisition workforce. It would require agencies to
identify needs, such as skill gaps and incentives to keep
experienced workers, according to the amendment.



Under the Defense Authorization bill, the fund would be
credited with a percentage of total amount agencies spent on
services contracts. The credit would increase by 0.5 percent each
fiscal year until it reaches 2 percent in 2011, according to the
bill. For instance, for every $1 billion agencies spent on services
contracts in fiscal 2011, the fund would be credited with $20
million.



Davis said he was concerned about a provision in the amendment that
gives the Government Accountability Office officials new authority
to interview private individuals employed by government contractors
to get information during its audits. It raises questions that
haven't been considered, he said, such as what happens when the
person doesn’t want to talk.



While the amendment has some merit, Davis said it needs more debate
and research.


“In my judgment, it is not ready for prime time,” he
said.



About the Author

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

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