Defense Bills Push for Stricter Contract Procedures
T he defense authorization bills for the next fiscal year would add requirements aimed at tightening up Pentagon procurement practices and would require the Defense Department to pay more attention to chronic problem areas, such as overpriced contracts and lack of attention to contract management.
The Pentagon has been roiled by improper contracting practices during the past year. Some have involved purchases of products and services for the war in Iraq. The most notable scandal involved former Air Force acquisition official Darleen A. Druyun , who had negotiated a job with Boeing and admitted in federal court to favoring the company in several procurement decisions. She was sentenced in October and is serving a nine-month prison term.
In a report accompanying the Senate bill, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee take a comprehensive look at contracting laws and rules. Overall, the report says, the lawmakers attribute a "significant part" of the blame for Defense contracting troubles "to inadequate human capital planning and continuing reductions in the defense acquisition workforce."
Over the past decade, Defense downsized its acquisition workforce by almost half while the contract dollars have roughly doubled during that period, according to the Pentagon. Retirements in the workforce almost certainly will increase in the next few years, leaving Defense short of experienced hands in some critical procurement jobs, the Government Accountability Office said recently.
The Senate report, which contends that the workforce cuts were made "in a haphazard way," says the Armed Services Committee is concerned that organizational problems and personnel instability are undermining major weapons-systems programs. "It is questionable whether the Department of Defense can effectively manage major programs as long as senior officials are changing every 18 months and the department continues to rely almost exclusively on contractors for technical expertise," the report says.
To help address some of the problems, the Senate bill would increase the Defense acquisition staff by 15 percent from fiscal 2006 through 2008. The bill urges the secretary of defense "to ensure parallel treatment" of military and civil service officials and to designate certain civilian positions as critical to Defense acquisition.
The Senate bill also would require each military service to establish a Contract Support Acquisition Center to develop and maintain policies and best practices for contract tracking and oversight.
The bill would mandate reviews by federal inspectors general into the Pentagon's use of interagency contracts -- which permit officials at a non-Defense agency to make purchases on behalf of Defense agencies, for example.
Defense, the Senate report says, "does not have an adequate system to track such basic information as who is using these contracts, what they are buying and how much they are paying."
The House report, prepared by the House Armed Services Committee, expresses similar concerns. Before departing for the Memorial Day recess, the House approved its version of the Defense bill.
It includes a requirement that the defense secretary establish a Contingency Contracting Corps, directed by a senior officer who would report directly to the combat commander for an area that would require emergency contracting support.
The House bill also would require the Pentagon to prepare an ethics report for Congress. "The committee believes DoD action is necessary to prevent future violations of conflict-of-interest laws and post-employment restrictions," the House report says.
Jim Fisher , an Internal Revenue Service employee, will retire May 31 after 31 years of federal service. At the IRS, he has led the agency's procurement strategic planning and measures initiative. He worked at the U.S. Geological Survey before joining the Treasury Department in 1989.
Martin Goldman , director of survivor affairs at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, will retire May 31 after 42 years of government service. Prior to joining the museum, he worked at the departments of Treasury and Interior.
Albert W. Niemann Jr. , chief of strategic planning and budgeting for media and publications at the Internal Revenue Service, is retiring after more than 31 years of federal service. Friends will honor him at a retirement ceremony May 31.