House overhauls acquisition of Defense services, technology

The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a major overhaul of how the Defense Department purchases services and technology, spending that accounts for roughly 80 percent of Pentagon procurements.

In a 417-3 vote, lawmakers approved the 2010 IMPROVE Acquisition Act, which would make major changes to Defense's purchasing system, acquisition workforce and financial management.

The legislation will save taxpayers billions of dollars annually, said Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and one of the bill's original sponsors.

"This legislation would require DoD to adopt the basic management practices that are necessary for anything as complex as the acquisition system to function properly," Skelton said on the House floor Wednesday. "These changes will make sure that the men and women who are risking their lives to protect this country are getting the proper equipment they need to do their jobs and to protect themselves -- and that it gets to them sooner."

The bill requires Defense to tie salary increases, bonuses, promotions and awards to performance. It directs the Defense secretary to "use individual performance management plans for the acquisition workforce;" apply lessons learned from a demonstration project; "develop attractive career paths, encourage continuing education and training; and develop appropriate procedures for due process for members of the acquisition workforce who consistently fail to meet performance standards."

The Pentagon would have to revamp its acquisition requirements process and to apply performance management to the defense acquisition system. The newly created Office of Performance Assessment and Root Cause Analysis would be responsible for establishing and assessing performance metrics.

The legislation also requires the Defense comptroller to show preference to any department component that has financial statements validated as ready for audit earlier than the current statutory deadline of Sept. 30, 2017. Those components could receive priority in the release of appropriated funds, see additional money for bonuses or get relief from certain expenditure thresholds.

Lawmakers added more than a dozen amendments to the bill on Wednesday, including the creation of a council within Defense that would provide recommendations on budget and policy matters related to the industrial base.

Other amendments specify energy efficiency as one of the metrics that can be used in performance assessment of defense acquisitions; require that cost be given "at least equal importance in evaluating" competitive contract proposals and stipulate training courses for acquisition personnel include market research strategies to ensure that the surrounding market is considered during the contracting process.

The act sped through the House. The bill's key facets were included in a March report by the House Armed Services Committee's Panel on Defense Acquisition Reform. The panel released its report after a yearlong comprehensive review of how Defense procures goods and services.

The measure, which the White House supports, builds off of many reforms enacted in the 2009 Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act.

Skelton has said the new legislation would be added to the 2011 Defense authorization bill, a tactic that would guarantee Senate lawmakers take it up for consideration.

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