Tom Temin | Editor's Desk: A new Hill view

Thomas R. Temin

With Democrats gaining control of Congress in the recent elections, Henry Waxman, the California liberal, will likely chair the House Committee on Government Reform, replacing the peripatetic Tom Davis (R-Va.).

Davis has been highly accessible to both industry and government practitioners in IT, and has a detailed and nuanced understanding of the issues. He'll still occupy a seat on the bus, but won't drive it.

What will Waxman do? Historically, he has a flair for the dramatic investigation and the public designation of villains. Think tobacco. But looking at the new Congress from an IT standpoint, things may not change all that much.

Davis and Waxman are said to be able to work together. A case in point is last summer's HR 5838, the Federal Agency Data Breach Notification Act. Other Democrats, although not Waxman, co-sponsored. But Waxman had earlier joined Davis in calling on agencies to do a better job reporting missing data.

Nevertheless, Waxman has his own agenda, more in procurement than IT. He co-sponsored the Clean Contracting Act; curl up with this 43-page baby some night and see what you'll be in for.

The bill would ban monopoly contracts. And those that don't specify firm quantities to be purchased. It would reduce use of cost-plus contracts. It would prohibit what Waxman calls layer-cake deals that inflate costs through tiers of subcontractors. It would toughen rules on interagency contracts, raining on the Lines of Business initiatives, a centerpiece of the President's Management Agenda. (To nearly everyone's relief, it would end the Alaska Native corporation charade.)

To be sure, all of these are subject to abuse, and some contracting in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and in Iraq was ugly. But monopoly contracts, emergency purchasing provisions, even cost-plus contracts can be useful tools when applied judiciously and with fair-mindedness. Let's hope the inevitable hearings are equally fair, and not witch hunts.

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