Contractors could face increased oversight on the Hill

The Democratic Congress is unlikely to take on many investigations or oversight hearings scrutinizing the incoming Obama administration in its next session, which could lead lawmakers to steer their oversight focus toward contractors, procurement experts said on Wednesday.

"I think the oversight on the Hill is going to be fairly gingerly applied the first couple of months … they'll give this administration a chance to get people in place and priorities started," said Alan Chvotkin, vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Council, a contractor association, at an acquisition panel discussion hosted by the Washington law firm Venable LLP.

But just because committee chairs won't have the opportunity to grill administration officials who might also be political rivals doesn't mean they're going to relinquish their oversight duties entirely.

"If you're Henry Waxman or Ed Towns or any of the other committee chairmen who do oversight, I think they're not just going to give the Obama administration a grace period, a honeymoon period … I think these folks are going to turn to somebody. And who is that somebody? The contractors and the individuals getting the money," said Raymond Shepherd, a partner at Venable and former staff director and chief counsel of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

All the panelists named accountability, transparency and oversight as key contracting themes they expect to see in the next administration and those themes are likely to be reflected in Congress as well.

"What's on our plate for the coming year, a lot of that will be guided by what the Obama administration sends up to us and what his priorities are," said Cathy Garman, a professional staff member on the House Armed Services Committee.

Rob Burton, a Venable partner and former deputy administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, expects accountability will continue to be a major focus from both an executive and legislative perspective, with one key twist.

"I think in the next year or so the focus will be on contractor accountability," Burton said. "With the Bush administration it's a good argument that the focus was on agency accountability -- there's no question that the Bush administration was very preoccupied with agency performance, making sure they had tangible, measurable results. There was the President's Management Agenda focused on agency accountability, there was a score card … now there are a number of things with the contractor accountability that will be fairly significant."

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