Administration weighs in on new acquisition legislation

The federal government has made progress in reforming the acquisition process over the past decade, but acquisition workers still need to learn to buy smarter, according to testimony senior administration officials submitted Thursday to the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy. "The government is not utilizing commercial best practices [in acquisition]," said subcommittee chairman Tom Davis, R-Va, in his prepared statement. Davis called the hearing to get comments on his proposed Services Acquisition Reform Act legislation, which would create a governmentwide training fund to teach the federal acquisition workforce the basics of new contracting regulations. It would also teach them about private sector innovations that could work for the government. The training would be paid for by collecting 5 percent of all fees generated by agencies' use of the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Schedules, a set of pre-negotiated contracts awarded to thousands of vendors that any agency can use, and by other governmentwide acquisition contracts. Angela Styles, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, supported Davis' call for a comprehensive education of the acquisition workforce. Styles cited concerns raised by her office and the General Accounting Office that acquisition officials don't have a firm enough grasp of contracting regulations to ensure that agencies are securing the best value on purchases, particularly when buying services. "Recent reviews of our acquisition activities illustrate that even the most streamlined and efficient tools will not produce quality results if the 'acquisition basics' are not followed," Styles said. Styles stopped short of endorsing Davis' proposal to pay for workforce education by dipping into contract fees. "As a general matter, I believe acquisition training programs should be funded through normal budget and appropriations processes," she said. "Using fees generated from purchases made from [governmentwide contracts] to fund training could unnecessarily discourage use of these vehicles." William T. Woods, acting director for acquisition and sourcing management at GAO, said the oversight agency was pleased with the workforce education proposals in the draft legislation. At Davis' request, GAO is working to determine the current state of acquisition workforce training at several agencies, including GSA and the Department of Veterans Affairs, two agencies Woods said have failed to establish core training requirements for some segments of their acquisition workforces. Davis' reform legislation also calls for the establishment of a chief acquisition officer in every agency, a career employee who would report directly to the head of the agency and would be a member of the Procurement Executives Council, an interagency council of top acquisition officials Styles raised concerns that such a provision would replace OFPP regulations that require that the head of each executive agency appoint a senior procurement executive to manage the agency's procurement system. She said that such appointments should be left to the discretion of the agency head, not mandated by legislation. Former OFPP Administrator Steven Kelman told Government Executive that he supported the establishment of a chief acquisition officer, saying it "properly reflects the increased visibility and importance of contracting" to agencies' missions. Kelman also agreed with the draft legislation's proposal to encourage share-in-savings contracting, an arrangement in which vendors earn financial rewards or paybacks for any money they save on a contract. The bill would direct the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Council to amend the FAR to allow for "savings incentives." "I continue to believe that this represents a real opportunity for the government to dramatically [encourage] contractors to perform well on contracts," Kelman said. Styles gave only tepid support to the legislation's call for increased use of performance-based contracting, in which vendor rewards are tied directly to their performance. She cited concerns that agencies still don't fully understand how to define such contracts and how to effectively manage them. However, she pledged OFPP would assess ways to achieve a governmentwide transition to performance-based contracting. Davis has said performance-based contracts are underutilized by agencies.
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