Acting GSA chief says relationship with inspector general is on the mend

The General Services Administration's acting administrator said on Wednesday that he has met twice with GSA Inspector General Brian Miller, and that the two are working to improve relations between the agency's program offices and the IG's office.

At a Coalition for Government Procurement conference in McLean, Va., David Bibb said his early meetings with Miller went well, and that they "both intend to build on that solid beginning."

Differences of opinion between the agency and its inspector general are inevitable, Bibb said. "We need to get past the constant sense of tension between the operating programs and the IG. They have a role, we have a role, and as long as our opinions on running the programs are heard -- and I think they will be -- we're going to have a good relationship." Former GSA Administrator Lurita A. Doan has said that her prolonged public feud with Miller was a primary reason for her ouster in April.

Procurement observers from agencies, industry and Congress predicted that inspectors general, Congress and the White House would become more involved in contracting issues during the next year -- regardless of who occupies the Oval Office.

John Horan, a partner at Washington law firm McKenna Long & Aldridge, said the success that IGs have experienced in many of their recent investigations likely will empower them to more aggressively pursue, and possibly even expand, their oversight roles.

"There's nothing like success to drive investigators, and they've had success in what I consider the more traditional area of effective [contract] pricing … and have also been successful in some of the less traditional compliance areas, such as the [1979] Trade Agreements Act," he said.

Horan said IGs could increase interagency coordination for certain probes. Regulatory changes also will expand inspectors' roles by requiring them to handle mandatory disclosures by contractors of criminal violations and overpayments.

Congressional oversight of contracting has been high-profile this election year, and observers do not expect the heat to let up, even after a change in administration.

"I'll predict further that no matter which presidential candidate wins in November, they are likely to be more involved [than his or her predecessor] in procurement issues," said Kingston Smith, minority counsel for the House Veterans' Affairs Committee. Smith believes concerns about cost and budget, as well as the new president's policy positions, will drive the increase in oversight.

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