Federal Contracts

Competitive Bidding Falls Off in Bush Years

Friday, May 11, 2007

The value of federal contracts awarded without competitive bidding has soared since President Bush took office in 2000, according to a new study to be released Monday by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.

Federal contracting grew from $203 billion in fiscal 2000 to $377 billion by fiscal 2005. During the same period, the value of federal contracts awarded without competitive bidding more than doubled, from $67 billion to $145 billion, the study found. At the same time, government oversight of contracting has weakened, according to the study's author, Scott Lilly, a senior fellow at the center and a former House Democratic aide.

For example, the Defense Department is responsible for 80 percent of the overall federal contract growth during the five years under study. But the number of federal civilians employed by the department declined by about 2,000 in the same period. As a result, contractors have increasingly stepped in to fill the void -- to help the government decide its needs, draft contracts awarded to other private firms and then monitor their performance, the study found.

Federal contracts are big money -- they represent about 3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product, about the same amount as the automotive industry. And because a growing chunk of that money is being handed to private companies without competitive bidding, it raises questions about whether taxpayers are getting the best deal and whether the contracting process has grown corrupt, Lilly said.

"There are clear indications that serious contract abuse has become a widespread problem affecting programs and agencies across the entire government and involving tens of billions of dollars in federal funds annually," according to the study.

-- Lyndsey Layton

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