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Bill to target waste in contracting moves to Senate floor

Measure encourages maximum competition and limits length of non-competitive contracts awarded under exceptional circumstances.

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bill Wednesday aimed at increasing competition and reducing waste in government contracting.

"With federal contract purchases now exceeding $400 billion a year and with the alarming waste we have discovered through our investigations, the need for vigorous reform of our contracting operations is evident," said ranking member Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, adding that new contracts subjected to open competition have fallen below 50 percent.

The bill (S. 680), which was adopted by voice vote, would require that federal agencies get three offers or provide justification that the maximum practicable competition was obtained for the purchase of property and services. It also requires more transparency a publication of "sole source" orders. The legislation would also more closely link award fees to performance.

It also limits the length of non-competitive contracts that were awarded under exceptional circumstances. The original bill would have required a competitive process be held within 150 days, but a substitute amendment extended that period to 270 days.

The substitute amendment, adopted by voice vote, also requires an analysis of the handling of subcontracting and waste, and it deletes a section of the original bill dealing with strengthening the office of the inspector general. Concerns about the office of the IG will be dealt with in a separate bill, Collins said.

The legislation also aims to recruit and retain acquisition professionals in the federal workforce. Collins noted that 30 percent of contracting personnel will be eligible for retirement in 2011.

The bill increases acquisition workforce training programs including an internship and fellowship program that would pay tuition for students who promise to work in the acquisitions field in the federal government for three years.

"Our goal in this bill is to strengthen competition in federal contracting, improve procurement outcomes, and curtail waste of taxpayers' money," Collins said.

Collins noted several specific cases of government waste including $1.3 million in unnecessary equipment and $2 million in unaccounted for disbursements in a $7 million contract for a polices academy in Iraq, and a $915 million contract with FEMA to build manufactured homes for Hurricane Katrina victims, more than 2000 of which were found to exceed size specifications.

The measure now moves to the Senate floor.