Lawmaker wants to fence off money for contract oversight

One percent of federal procurement spending should be set aside for contract management and oversight, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee said Monday.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said that his legislative effort to implement procurement reform (H.R. 1362) is bogged down in the Senate and the Bush administration is resisting key parts of his proposal. But even the best-written laws will do little to curb waste, fraud and abuse without more contract managers and government auditors to oversee the "burgeoning procurement budget," Waxman said at an event hosted by the nonprofit Center for American Progress.

A provision in Waxman's original contracting reform bill would have required agencies to invest at least 1 percent of the total cost of contracts in procurement personnel, oversight and planning, but the language was dropped before the measure reached the House floor.

"Procurement experts can debate whether that is the right percentage or not, but we need more resources [and] that should not be in dispute," Waxman said.

Waxman said his panel will begin holding regular hearings on contracting fraud and abuse.

The outsourcing of non-core government functions can serve useful purposes, Waxman said. But if it is not done the right way or if it involves core work, contracting can become a sieve for money to flow out of an agency, Waxman said.

Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight and a panelist at the event, said it is time to reexamine whether federal employees are paid enough. She said there has been increased movement through the revolving door between government and the private sector, and at many agencies it is difficult to tell contractors apart from federal workers.

"It's not simply pay," said Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and author of a just-released report on federal contracting. "It's also [federal employees'] ability to be at the center of the decision making at the agency that has been eroded over time."

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