Defense business agency gets Iraq contracting assignment

Less than a year after its creation, the Pentagon's Business Transformation Agency has been assigned the task of streamlining and transforming the Defense Department's contracting processes and systems in Iraq.

Paul Brinkley, Defense deputy undersecretary for business transformation and co-director of the BTA, will lead the Task Force to Support Improved DoD Contracting and Stability Operations in Iraq, using BTA resources and reporting to Gordon England, the deputy secretary of Defense.

"One of the things we have learned at BTA is that there are two sets of processes in associated business systems … processes for peace-time operations … and another set of requirements when you go into a war zone," Brinkley said in an interview.

In this new role, the task force is expected to provide recommendations and implementation plans for a variety of Defense contracting policies and procedures in Iraq, but will not be responsible for awarding contracts. Ultimately, the creation of the task force is aimed at accelerating the reconstruction and stability operations within Iraq.

Brinkley said about a dozen government employees and industry personnel serving with the BTA as consultants will be assigned to the task force.

"Your business processes need to be much more nimble to make sure that the mission that is being undertaken is being supported," Brinkley said. "What we're finding is that there is nothing that officially needs to be relaxed … while the law and regulations allow that [flexibility] … our systems have not been designed for that capability."

The task force will make recommendations in areas including the deployment of common systems and business processes for contract management in Iraq, possible structural changes to the Pentagon's contracting authorities and potential changes to the Federal Acquisition Regulation and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement. The recommendations must be submitted to England for final approval, according to a June 22 memorandum released Thursday.

Brinkley said the task force will publish a report every three months.

With Brinkley heading up the task force, England wrote that Thomas Modly, Defense deputy undersecretary for financial management and co-director of the BTA, will have additional responsibilities for handling the day-to-day operations of the agency.

In a separate memorandum dated June 26, Brinkley and Modly outlined a series of personnel and organizational changes for the BTA, including the termination of its Information and Federation Strategy Directorate, the appointment of BTA personnel to the task force and a reorganization of BTA senior leadership.

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a trade association that represents some of the contractors in Iraq, said the creation of the task force makes sense and is consistent with recommendations PSC compiled with the Army in late 2004 for improving contracting in Iraq.

"One of the main recommendations we had was the need to synthesis the various policies and laws," Soloway said. "A lot of the authorities and rules are scattered."

He said there is a wealth of information on how to improve contracting in Iraq and he hopes the task force's efforts do not "amount to a lot of reinventing the wheel."

"This cannot be done in the vacuum of the BTA," Soloway said. They need to have the industry at the table. Planning needs to involve those who need to be executing. And I have no reason to believe that the BTA does not believe that."

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said last month that corrupt contracting practices and fraud no longer are a major factor in Iraq, in part due to a program of aggressive oversight by his 50 auditors, inspectors and investigators in the Baghdad office.

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