Army skeptical of fixed-price contracts

The Obama administration might be embracing fixed-priced contracts as the preferred method for purchasing goods and services from the private sector, but that strategy is not necessarily being implemented by the Army.

During a speech on Wednesday to service contractors, Malcolm O'Neill, assistant Army secretary for acquisition, logistics and technology, offered a surprisingly frank critique of fixed-price contracts.

"There is risk when you take something fixed-price," O'Neill told members of the Professional Services Council, an industry trade association. "But my experience has been that when you offer a fixed-price bid, it's 10 percent to 15 percent more than you need."

O'Neill's office often has argued against using fixed-price awards because of the belief that contractors build a cushion into their bids to compensate for the potential risks that occur during the length of a contract.

The Army wants the contractor to share the risk using more cost-plus, incentive-based contracts in which the vendor is rewarded for coming in ahead of schedule and potentially punished, through the loss of award fees, for delays. Cost-type contracts also can be more easily modified if the government's requirements change, O'Neill said.

The Obama administration has repeatedly classified cost-plus contracts as "high risk," lumping them in with time-and-materials contracts and sole-source awards. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy has encouraged agencies to cut by 10 percent their use of each of the three contract types.

Recent data, however, suggest that agencies' use of cost-plus contracts actually has gone up. While agencies have cut their spending on time-and-materials contracts -- considered the highest risk to taxpayers because of the potential for escalating costs -- most of those contracts were converted to cost-reimbursement vehicles rather than fixed-price contracts, OFPP Administrator Daniel Gordon said last month.

O'Neill said he has received no direction from the Pentagon or the White House to use fixed-price contracting when he thinks it's inappropriate. In some instances, he has counseled against fixed-price contracts because the Army's estimated costs were 20 percent less than the lowest offer. He described the dichotomy as "should cost versus would cost."

In a brief presentation, O'Neill stressed the principles of the Defense Department's ongoing efficiency initiative to save money through reducing overhead costs, improving business practices -- including more contract competition -- and eliminating troubled programs.

"We have every reason to do our jobs better," O'Neill said. "If I can do the job of 10 people with eight people, that makes me feel good."

The funds saved from the efficiency initiative will largely be reinvested in the warfighter, Defense officials have said. The ultimate goal is a 2 percent-to-3 percent net annual growth in warfighting capability without a commensurate budget increase.

O'Neill said contractors will play a critical role in helping reach that goal. "You have got to play shortstop on our team," he said.

The Army, for its part, recently completed a study that looked at contract requirements, overall funding and acquisition policies. The resulting plan, which eventually will be made public, now is being reviewed by Pentagon leadership.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.