House passes lean defense authorization bill

A controversial piece of legislation makes it through the House

The House today overwhelmingly passed a weakened version of the fiscal 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, after a cantankerous year of debate.

Many of the controversial provisions in the bill which House members complained about in debate were dropped to get the stripped-down version passed.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) called it a bill that no one is fully happy with, but it’s necessary to pass to continue the Defense Department’s programs and to set out new policies.

“This bill is a must-pass piece of legislation. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” Skelton said.

The bill passed 341 to 48.

The Senate still must passed the version of the bill.

Across the Capitol, Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman and ranking member of the Armed Services Committee respectively, said on Dec. 15 that they worked out this version of the bill because it's likely pass Congress and go to the president to sign.

“Because of the unique circumstances in which the bill is being considered and the importance of the legislation to our men and women serving in uniform at a time of war, we have agreed to drop many controversial provisions that were included in the House and Senate versions of the bill,” they said in a joint statement.

Several House members today complained that the latest version of the authorization act doesn’t give defense officials enough tools to deal with cybersecurity risks. However, the bill has DOD carrying out pilot projects on cybersecurity as well as reports on cyber warfare.

The new version includes many acquisition provisions, although some were changed. Members today said the acquisition reforms are important to make DOD spend money wisely and for lawmakers in the next Congress to be able to hold the department accountable for implementing them as directed.

In terms of procurement, the authorization bill would set up a crew of acquisition officials who focus on buying IT. The bill would have DOD define how many people are necessary to make the team useful and the certification employees would need to be on the team. With the new team, DOD would need to develop a career path for those employees.

This month, Obama administration officials recommended a similar acquisition employee cadre to help agencies buy fast-moving, ever-changing IT.

The group of employees must understand the dynamics of the commercial IT market and also federal regulations in government procurement, so agencies can get a better sense of the best way to buy major IT projects, said federal CIO Vivek Kundra.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy and Kundra plan to work out the details of certifications and training during the next six months.

Also in the revised bill, business groups were relieved to read diluted language in a controversial provision from the Senate’s version that would have allowed DOD officials to exclude a company from procurement competitions if they see it as a threat to the supply chain to IT systems' infrastructures. However, government officials would not have to disclose to the company that it was excluded.

In its current form, officials would have disclose the risks and work with the company to address those risks. The fall-back decision to eliminate a company from bidding on a contract would only be undertaken by senior DOD officials who would inform Congress. Previously, DOD officials’ first choice in reducing the risk was exclusion.

“If the government cannot work with a company to mitigate risk, it is critical that a decision to limit competition be very carefully considered at the most senior level,” said Phil Bond, president and CEO of TechAmerica.

About the Author

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

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