House chairman introduces procurement reform bill

Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, introduced a bill Wednesday to overhaul how the government buys services, including measures to encourage agencies to share savings from contracting efficiencies with companies and to create a government-industry exchange program for acquisition workers.

The bill, known as the Acquisition System Improvement Act (ASIA), is the latest chapter in Davis' long-running effort to modify federal procurement laws. Aides to Davis described it as a sequel to his Services Acquisition Reform Act, portions of which became law last year.

"My goal is to have the government approach the best practices of industry, particularly in the acquisition of cutting-edge information technology and management services," Davis said in a statement. Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., is co-sponsoring the bill.

The bill includes several mainstays of Davis' agenda, including giving agencies permanent authority to award share-in-savings contracts, where agencies share profits generated by projects with contractors. Agencies now have limited authority to use this approach, and the technique is not widespread.

Critics of share-in-savings contracting faulted Davis' proposal. "It's hard to imagine Congress saying yes to a multimillion-dollar giveaway to contractors, in the current fiscal climate," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a government watchdog group.

Brian pointed to a 2003 estimate by the Congressional Budget Office that share-in-savings contracting could cost agencies $450 million over 10 years.

Robert White, a spokesman for Davis, contested this. "We continue to dispute that share-in-savings has any [cost]," he said. "CBO has been wrong before."

The legislation would also create an exchange program between acquisition workers at agencies and federal contractors. White said this proposal, which is modeled on a similar government-industry program for technology workers, would expose federal managers to best practices in the private sector. "This is especially important in areas such as information technology and acquisition, where government clearly does not have all the answers," he said.

But POGO's Brian said the measure would only exacerbate problems associated with federal officials leaving to take positions with contractors. "I don't see much future for institutionalizing a revolving-door program," she said.

The bill also would consolidate several agency boards of contract appeals into two boards, one for the Defense Department and one for all civilian agencies.

Both the share-in-savings proposal and the acquisition exchange program have been part of previous acquisition reform bills sponsored by Davis. White said the congressman had not settled on a legislative strategy for ASIA. Last year, Davis attached his acquisition legislation to the Defense authorization bill.

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