Pentagon contracting policy faulted in two reports

Defense Department contractors in war zones wasted more than $30 billion during the past decade through poor planning and management, the chairs of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan said on Monday in an op-ed previewing a report due out this week.

During those same 10 years, the value of Pentagon contracts awarded without competitive bidding tripled, from $50 billion in 2001 to more than $140 billion in 2010, according to a report the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity released Monday.

In a critique titled "Reducing Waste in War Contracts" published in The Washington Post, former Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and Mark Thibault, former deputy director of the Defense Contract Audit Agency, wrote that all eight members of the wartime commission "agree that major changes in law and policy are needed to avoid confusion and waste in the next contingency, whether it involves armed struggle overseas or response to disasters at home."

The panel chairmen said taxpayer dollars have been "wasted through poor planning, vague and shifting requirements, inadequate competition, substandard contract management and oversight, lax accountability, weak interagency coordination, and subpar performance or outright misconduct by some contractors and federal employees."

As solutions, they recommended:

  • Designating a dual-hatted official to coordinate contracting at the Office of Management and Budget who would participate in meetings of the National Security Council;
  • Using risk analysis more in deciding whether a function not inherently governmental should be outsourced;
  • Reviewing current and pending projects for evidence of unsustainability, with an eye toward canceling those that don't appear promising;
  • Creating a permanent inspector general for operations during contingencies.
Meanwhile, the Center for Public Integrity's research findings, which it will unfold daily this week in a series called "Windfalls of War," include an analysis of federal data concluding that "the Pentagon's competed contracts, based on dollar figures, fell to 55 percent in the first two quarters of 2011, a number lower than any point in the last 10 years since the terrorist attacks of 9/11." The center noted that the issue of noncompetitive contracting practices has been examined many times by the Government Accountability Office, the Defense Department's inspector general and the Commission on Wartime Contracting.

President Obama weighed in on the problem both as a candidate in 2008 and in a presidential memo in 2009. The center also cited a memo promising efforts at greater use of "multisource, continuously competitively bid" contracts issued in 2010 by Defense Undersecretary Ashton B. Carter, the Pentagon's senior procurement chief.

But "campaign pledges and memos have made little headway in combating the problem," wrote analyst Sharon Weinberger, whose team studied a dozen government reports and investigations and interviewed eight former government officials and experts.

Coming installments in the series will examine no-bid contracting at the Energy, Homeland Security and State departments, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, all of which, the center says, have better records on the issue than does the Pentagon. The final report of the wartime commission, chartered by Congress in 2008, is scheduled for release on Wednesday.

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