Funding delays hinder efficient contracting, panel told

A federal executive in charge of buying goods and services for the Army said Tuesday that the government budgeting process prevents him from administering efficient contracts.

In remarks to a meeting of an acquisition panel convened by the Office of Management and Budget, Tim Tweed, director of the Army Contracting Agency's Southern Region Contracting Center-East, said budgeting problems cause him to modify some contracts on a monthly basis, when funding becomes available. "It's a horrible way to do business," he said.

The panel was created by the Services Acquisition Reform Act, which was part of the 2004 Defense Authorization Act, to examine government procurement practices.

Tweed did not specify how much the budgeting delays were costing the agency, but he said they were increasing administrative costs because his team has to spend more time tracking funding and making modifications. He acknowledged that Congress is unlikely to relinquish its annual appropriations process, but said he wanted recognition of the problem.

Executives also named acquisition reform and workforce issues as obstacles to getting their job done. Lisa Akers, director of the General Services Administration's Federal Systems Integration and Management Center, said she has aggressively recruited in-house project managers and offered flexible work schedules to boost her acquisition workforce.

Tweed said acquisition reform over the last decade has hurt his ability to train his workforce, because he has had to spend more time teaching them how to use new computer systems. "From my insulated world, it's a whole lot harder for me to do work now than it used to be," he said.

Tweed also said that while his office is moving toward "performance-oriented" contracts--that work statements no longer specify specific tasks but rather focus more on results--he does not use performance-based contracts that involve metrics to measure contractors' performance. In the past, he said, work statements went so far as to specify the thickness of wastebasket liners.

Carl DeMaio, a panelist and president of the Performance Institute, an Arlington, Va.-based think tank, said his working group, which is focused on performance-based contracting, is working toward a 10-step process to replace the current seven-step process that serves as a guideline for making performance-based acquisitions.

DeMaio also said that he thought program managers could augment the expertise of acquisition personnel by helping with the contracting process. "We need to broaden the expectations of who's involved," he said.

Executives also said that interagency contracting vehicles, such as supply schedules administered by GSA, help to alleviate the strain an overburdened workforce.

"We couldn't live without those schedules," said Tweed.

Akers said FEDSIM, which helps agencies buy information technology, remains efficient by charging its clients by the hour, which she said prevents costly projects from being subsidized by less time-consuming ones. She said acquisition managers should be more focused on monitoring contracts after awards have been made rather than on making the awards themselves.

She compared the situation to weddings and marriage: A beautiful wedding does not guarantee a solid marriage, just as an impressive award does not necessarily lead to good contract implementation.

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