Senators go after waste in wartime contracting

Sen. James Webb, D-Va. Sen. James Webb, D-Va. Shizuo Kambayashi/AP

Citing massive problems with waste and fraud, lawmakers on Thursday introduced legislation to improve oversight of wartime contract spending.

Co-authored by Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Jim Webb, D-Va., the Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act would overhaul the federal government’s planning, management and oversight of contract spending in areas of conflict.

In August 2011, the independent, bipartisan Wartime Contracting Commission reported that as a result of poor procurement oversight, federal agencies wasted as much as $60 billion of the more than $205 billion spent on private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. McCaskill and Webb first introduced the legislation to create the commission in 2007, using as their model the Truman Committee, which investigated waste and fraud during World War II.

Thursday’s legislation focuses on four areas of wartime contracting: elevating oversight responsibility, requiring the government to identify how it will pay for overseas military operations, increasing transparency and competition, and instituting additional provisions for contractor accountability. It specifically requires the Defense and State departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development to exercise more authority and responsibility over the contractors they work with.

“You can bet that contractors who’ve made billions off of U.S. taxpayers aren’t excited about a crackdown,” McCaskill said in a statement. “But with the roadmap provided by the commission report, we can change the way our government contracts during wartime and make sure these failures are never repeated.”

Webb, former secretary of the Navy, stated the bill recognizes the work of support contractors and the “necessity to improve government management and accountability in the contracting process that resulted in unacceptable costs, excessive waste and substandard performance in far too many areas.”

Scott Amey, general counsel to the Project on Government Oversight praised the bill saying, “No matter the policy or ideological reasons for hiring wartime contractors, this bill provides an improved set of checks and balances that will save taxpayers billions.”

Professional Services Council President and Chief Executive Officer Stan Soloway, however, expressed concerns that the bill’s provisions are too inflexible for agencies to efficiently meet their missions.

“This bill is largely a package to correct some contingency problems that arose during the last decade,” Soloway said. “If legislation is necessary to address those problems, it should seek to strengthen the mechanics, flexibilities and appropriate controls for contingencies.

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