New acquisition council raises importance of procurement

New acquisition council raises importance of procurement

With the creation of the Chief Acquisition Officers Council, the Office of Management and Budget last week pushed procurement issues higher on agency radar screens.

The council, which was mandated by the Service Acquisition Reform Act, will be the 'principal interagency forum for monitoring and improving the federal acquisition system,' said a memo to agency heads from OMB deputy director for management Clay Johnson.

Congress passed a majority of the provisions in SARA as a part of the 2004 Defense Authorization Act last November.

The council replaces the Federal Acquisition Council, and all agencies must designate a non-career chief acquisition officer. Johnson said most agencies are considering giving the CAO responsibilities to an existing political appointee.

Johnson will lead the council, but he will assign its direction to the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Robert Burton is acting OFPP administrator, but President Bush's nominee, David Safavian, is waiting to be confirmed by the Senate. The Senate Governmental Affairs Committee yesterday approved his nomination, and now the full Senate will vote on it.

'The concept is to bring the chief acquisition officers on par with the CIO Council and the Chief Financial Officers Council, and its composition should be reflective of the integrated nature of acquisition,' said OFPP official Matthew Blum yesterday at the E-Government Solutions Forum conference sponsored by E-Gov in Washington.

'We don't expect there to be a large change in the composition of the Federal Acquisition Council given the broader scope of that body,' Blum said. 'We want to make sure the council speaks to broader acquisition issues and elevate those issues so there will be clear lines of accountability and responsibility higher up in the agencies.'

Some of the first things the new council will have to deal with are a number of proposed rules OFPP is finalizing.

Blum said the first proposal would distinguish the different roles that apply to agencies that order from governmentwide acquisition contracts and those that run those vehicles.

The proposed rule will emphasize that the agency that runs that contract must make sure the work falls within the scope of the GWAC on all orders over $100,000, Blum said.

Another proposed rule will require agencies to tell OFPP why they decided to use a time and materials contract instead of a firm fixed-price contract, Blum said.

The administration favors firm fixed-price contracts because it puts the risk on the contractor, while time and materials contracts puts the risk on the agencies to control how much time a vendor works on the project.

'There is no presumption that it is bad to buy goods and services with time and materials contracts, but there are challenges,' Blum said. 'We want to make sure agencies jump through the hoops to determine what it the most suitable type of contract instead of just jumping straight to time and materials.'

A third proposed rule would require agencies to provide explanation for restricting competition on purchases from the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Services schedules.

Blum said the proposal also would require contracting employees to receive approval from agency officials if they want to award a sole-source contract to a vendor. He added the proposal would set different approval levels within the agency depending on the contract.

'We still want agencies to have flexibilities that come with the schedules, but these are management challenges that have come up and we have to address,' he said.

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