Contracting reform

CONTRACTING REFORM…. President Obama kicked off an initiative yesterday to bring more competition and accountability to federal contracting procedures. Given the costs and corruption associated with Bush-era no-bid contracts, it makes sense to bring change to government contracts with private businesses.

Spencer Ackerman had a great item yesterday, explaining why fans of Defense Department waste have reason to be nervous, and the Washington Post highlighted the big picture today.

Steven L. Schooner, who co-directs the government procurement law program at George Washington University, said the most important review the president has ordered is the one that evaluates the “ability of the federal acquisition workforce to develop, manage and oversee acquisitions appropriately.” He said that element also will probably be the most difficult to address, given the likely costs attached and the government’s financial constraints.

The federal procurement workforce has largely stagnated for years, while procurement spending has risen rapidly. Since 2000, such spending has risen by about 155 percent, to almost $532 billion, while growth in the acquisition workforce — employees responsible for awarding and monitoring contracts — has grown 10 percent. At the same time, the award of contracts without full and open competition has soared.

In addition, more than half the government’s acquisition workforce will be eligible to retire in the next decade. Many of those workers have not been sufficiently trained to handle the changing nature of many federal contracts. Unlike in the past, when federal procurement workers bought objects at the lowest prices possible, many must now negotiate service agreements that are much more complex.

“Realistically, if we want the government’s procurement dollars spent wisely, the government may need to hire tens of thousands of qualified, motivated, trained and responsible acquisition professionals,” Schooner said. “That’s everything.”

For regular Washington Monthly readers, this probably isn’t a surprise. The scandalous lack of procurement personnel was the theme of our recent Coast Guard piece, and the general need to focus on personnel was the argument of this recent piece.