Senate Committee plans review of procurement reform

In a sign that procurement reform may soon receive more congressional scrutiny, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee last week called on the General Accounting Office to investigate the fees agencies charge on multiple-agency contracts and separately, the needs of the government's acquisition workforce. Looking at fees is a first step toward a broader congressional review of how procurement reforms from the 1990s, such as the 1994 Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act and the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, have been used by agencies, according to a committee staffer. "From our perspective, there have been enough years so these laws should be fully implemented," the staffer said. "Now is a good time to see how things are working." Multiple-agency contracts such as governmentwide acquisition contracts and multiple-award contracts allow agencies to share contracts with other agencies for a fee. The fees are used to cover the operating costs of the contracts. Hailed for their ability to streamline IT procurement, multiple-agency contracts have also been attacked as tools that allow contracting officers to avoid competition in the procurement process. In an April 25 letter to Comptroller General David Walker, Committee chairman Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., and ranking member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., highlighted a host of potential problems with the fees used to finance multiple-agency contracts. "We are concerned that there may be substantial variation in the fees being charged for similar services. We are also concerned that the fees being generated may substantially exceed the actual costs [of managing the contracts] and circumvent congressional oversight and control," wrote the lawmakers. The Committee's work will build on previous GAO reports that looked at whether multiple-agency contracts impede competition. Deidre Lee, acquisition director at the Defense Department, launched an Office of Federal Procurement Policy study of how multiple-agency contracts were used across government when she was OFPP administrator in 1999. This report is complete and will be released after the Bush administration's nominee to head OFPP, Angela Styles, is confirmed, the staffer said. Procurement shops may be justified in charging varying fees for operating such contracts because they provide different types of service, according to Allan Burman, president of the consulting firm Jefferson Solutions and former administrator of the OFPP. "In some cases there might be a higher fee, but the folks charging it might be doing more work for you in contract administration," said Burman. "You can't conclude there should be one flat fee without going into question of whether the services people are charging for are comparable." The Federal Technology Service, a procurement office run out of the General Services Administration, is an example of a contracting shop that charges a higher fee but provides more services, according to Burman and a committee staffer. FTS not only operates its own contracts but also provides client support centers that identify vendors and contracts for agencies in need of IT services and products. As a result, FTS charges a fee of 7 percent to 8 percent, the staffer said. "What are agencies getting for that 7 or 8 percent [fee]?" asked the staffer. "That's what we want to know." In a different letter dated April 25, Senators Thompson and Leiberman directed GAO to develop a workforce-planning model to address the needs of the acquisition workforce across government. The senators specifically asked GAO to determine whether the methodology presented in a 2000 Defense Department report ("Shaping the Civilian Acquisition Workforce of the Future,") could be applied to civilian agencies. "GAO should consider whether the [DoD report] provides an appropriate roadmap for addressing the concerns with the acquisition workforce," the senators wrote.
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