Panel sets course for Army contracting overhaul

A special commission charged with reviewing Army expeditionary contracting has determined that extensive reform is urgently needed to ensure that future in-theater contracts are effective, efficient and transparent.

The commission, led by Jacques Gansler, former undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, released its report Thursday after briefing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Army Secretary Pete Geren and the House and Senate Armed Services committees. According to Gansler, who held a press briefing at the Pentagon Thursday, the commission conducted more than 100 interviews and found general consensus on the primary issues and need for reform.

The report set out four key areas of reform: contracting personnel; organization and responsibility; training and tools; and legislative, regulatory and policy assistance. Gansler called personnel reforms the most important of the four. "Contracting -- from requirements definition through contract management -- is not an Army core competence, but it should be," he said.

Despite the contracting workload multiplying by seven in recent years, the report found that the civilian and military contracting workforce is stagnant or declining. Only 3 percent of the Army's contracting personnel are active-duty military. While the problem of insufficient acquisition personnel is a departmentwide concern, it is particularly pronounced in the Army, the commission found. Despite far lower numbers of procurement actions, the Air Force has a significantly larger military acquisition workforce than the Army. The Air Force staffs 67 percent of the Joint Contracting Command in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the report, and the Air Force is handling many of the most complex contracts.

The commission recommended that the Army augment military contracting personnel by 400 and civilian personnel by 1,000 -- representing about a 25 percent increase. The report also advised a 583-person increase in Army personnel at the Defense Contract Management Agency to specifically support Army contracting operations.

While adding people is crucial, the commission stated that career development is as important to ensure that the contracting workforce is qualified and competent. The report recommended that Army military personnel -- both officers and enlisted -- start their contracting careers significantly earlier than they now do and that there be higher-level positions to ensure promising career opportunities.

Since future wars are likely to be similarly expeditionary and dependent on contractors, the role and importance of contractors should be taught in military courses and colleges. Combat exercises should also include contracting events, the commission said.

In addition to personnel changes, the commission advocated creating a single Army Contracting Command responsible for making contracting, from requisition to close-out, a "high-quality core competence." The report acknowledged that this change likely would not come about quickly, but said it is crucial to addressing both the in-theater acquisition problems that have plagued the Army recently, and contracting and weapons-buying Army-wide.

The Army Contracting Command would help synchronize contracting across the multiple commands now responsible for acquisitions. It also would create a single authority for policy interpretation of service and weapons contracting issues, the commission said.

A number of the report's recommendations -- including waiving certain set-asides and provisions in order to allow rapid, local buying -- would require legislative action, and Gansler said the Armed Services committees were receptive to the proposals.

Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement that Congress will seriously consider the commission's recommendations and that some are even addressed in this year's Defense authorization bill, currently in conference negotiations.

"The commission's report confirms my sense that the problems are systemic as well as individual, and the fact that acquisition reform must be a priority," Skelton stated.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said "We must also develop a cadre of highly trained acquisition personnel who can be deployed quickly to respond to the needs of a military operation abroad or to assist in the response to a natural disaster at home." Lieberman said pending contracting reform legislation introduced with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, (S. 680) would address this need, and he urged the full Senate to take up the bill quickly.

Gansler said while some of the recommended reforms are long-term, others could and should be implemented quickly, including providing benefits for civilian contracting personnel in-theater, reorganizing existing personnel and authorizing five Army contracting general officers.

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