Despite opposition from the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget, Congress is moving to give the OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy the clout some members feel is necessary to develop a uniform federal contracting policy.
On a voice vote, the House yesterday agreed to reauthorize the quasi-independent office for five years and reinstate the authority it had in the late 1970s to write government-wide procurement regulations.
The OFPP is supposed to guide the spending of more than $110 billion worth of federal procurement funds annually. But over the past few years, it has failed to achieve its two primary goals: getting the Defense Department, the General Services Administration and NASA to draw up a single set of federal procurement regulations and streamline them to spur competition.
OMB Deputy Director Joseph R. Wright Jr. told Congress that the administration does not want to increase the office's authority "because we believe we can function effectively without it." He said the change "could cause unnecessary tension" between procurement agencies.
The Defense Department, which opposed the creation of the office in 1974, still views it as an intrusion into departmental affairs. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Thayer, in a letter designed to coax the White House into the fray, wrote, "Certain aspects of the proposal just do not seem to be in line with how I believe government agencies should be organized or operated."
GSA officials agree. "Adding another layer is not going to help the procurement system," said Allan Beres, assistant GSA administrator for acquisition policy. "When something goes wrong, there's just going be another agency to blame--OFPP--in addition to DOD or GSA, or whoever is using a bad approach."
But groups ranging from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to the Computer and Communication Industry Association support a larger role for the office, saying they believe it will spur competition.
House Government Operations Committee Chairman Jack Brooks (D-Tex.) has sought to make the office more powerful since he became convinced that Defense was blocking its efforts to reform contracting policies.
Brooks views the bill as a "restatement" of the OFPP's primary mission, to press for competitive bidding on contracts whenever possible. At a hearing before his committee, GAO officials said that in recent years "a significant number of DOD and civil agency contracts were unnecessarily awarded on a sole-source basis because of ineffective procurement planning, failure to do sufficient market research and a general lack of commitment to competition on the part of key agency personnel."
William E. Mathis, principal associate administrator of the OFPP for procurement, said giving the office regulatory authority "doesn't mean we'll start writing regs. It just gives us a stronger bargaining chip." Mathis acknowledged that most of the work being done on uniform procurement standards is being done by Defense employes.
"We only have 14 professional staffers," he said.
But a Brooks aide responded, "Fourteen competent people with the right authority can do wonders in this town if they choose to. One person with the proper clout could do it, too."
Although Sen. William S. Cohen (R-Maine) has introduced a Senate version of the OFPP reauthorization bill that is closer to the administration's position, an aide said that could change.
Susan M. Collins, staff director of Cohen's Senate Governmental Affairs subcommittee on government management, said Cohen "likely" will amend his bill to give the OFPP a regulatory role.