Move to undo acquisition reform dies in conference

A compromise has been reached on a controversial set of provisions in the Senate version of the 2002 National Defense Authorization Act that many feared would undo years of acquisition reform in the Defense Department, Government Executive has learned. In its original form, Section 803 of the act (S. 1438) would have required Defense contracting officers to allow hundreds, if not thousands of vendors to compete for every order made through the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Schedules, a set of pre-negotiated contracts awarded to numerous companies from which all agencies can purchase goods and services for a fee. Currently, contracting officers are only required to compete orders among at least three vendors. A Senate Armed Services Committee staffer, frustrated by reports that Defense contracting officers were failing to conduct proper competitions on Federal Supply Service schedules and other multiple-award contract orders, wrote the provision, according to sources close to the negotiations. Speaking anonymously, one person who read the revised language of Section 803 of the act Monday, said an agreement brokered in conference committee acknowledges the concerns involving improper contracting practices without crippling the Defense acquisition process. The compromise eliminates the full-competition requirement and directs Defense contracting officers to obtain bids from at least three schedule-holders. If they don't obtain the required number of bids, they must document why and demonstrate that they made a reasonable effort to do so, the source said. The original language would have caused a logistical nightmare that would have effectively destroyed Defense's ability to make use of the streamlined contracts to quickly buy goods and services, experts said. Defense is the biggest user of the schedules, so the provision would likely have undermined GSA's customer base in one of its most important business lines. The revision will likely be a boon for GSA and other agencies that provide fee-based acquisition services for Defense and depend on the schedules for rapid turnaround. David Sutfin, chief of GovWorks, the fee-for-service arm of the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service, said the compromise removed what would have been a serious impediment in the acquisition process. "This is clearly keeping [acquisition] reform alive," he said. Frequently, contracting officers don't receive multiple bids from vendors because many companies are rarely interested in competing for every job. However, last November the General Accounting Office documented frequent Defense abuses of the GSA schedules and other multiple-award contracts. GAO said those abuses stemmed largely from a fundamental misunderstanding by contracting officers about how to conduct fair competitions. In its report, "Contract Management: Not Following ProceduresUndermines Best Pricing Under GSA's Schedule," (GAO-01-125), GAO found that, in several cases, Defense contracting officers were unaware of the need to get competitive bids on schedule orders. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Technology and Procurement Policy, had pushed for a compromise on Section 803 with staffers on the Senate Armed Services Committee. Spokesman David Marin said Davis was pleased with the compromise language. "It will achieve competition within DoD on multiple award contracts without shutting down the process through unrealistic requirements that contracting officers cannot meet-which the original provisions threatened to do," Marin said. Steven Kelman, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy during the Clinton administration, called the compromise a reasonable action. "This should not be seen as telling the agencies to 'take your medicine,'" Kelman said. "This is in the interest of the agencies and their missions." Kelman agreed with the Bush administration that all agencies need to refocus their attention on effectively competing orders on multiple-award contracts. "GSA and the agencies really need to get the message that streamlined competition means both 'streamlined' and 'competition,' not just one, not just the other," Kelman said. Section 801 of the act, which would have established an extensive oversight process for contracting Defense services, has also been squelched, the source said. Defense will be required to set up a management system for purchasing services, but the agency will be free to decide on its own how that system should be built. Section 802, which requires Defense to achieve specific savings goals on services contracts, remains intact, according to the source.
Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.