SARA implementation slow, GAO says

As agency spending on services continues to heat up, the administration's commitment to helping contracting officers meet those demands is tepid, according the latest report from the Government Accountability Office.

The General Services Administration said the government spent $189 billion on services contracts in fiscal 2004, including $35.4 billion for IT services. This is up from $29.4 billion in 2003 and $31.9 billion in 2002 for IT services, according to the market research firm Input of Reston, Va. With these increases, Congress passed the Services Acquisition Reform Act of 2002 mandating the administration implement 14 different functions to improve agency services contracting.

Nearly 18 months after SARA became law, auditors analyzed agency progress in meeting the mandate.

GAO's report [] said 'progress made by the administration on regulations, guidance and other actions required to implement the act varies. While actions are under way to implement nearly all of the provisions, the administration is much further along in implementing some provisions than others.'

Specifically, the audit agency found the Office of Personnel Management needs to complete its rule-making to let agencies directly hire workers to meet shortages. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy must finalize a rule on using time-and-materials contracting and rules giving agencies authority to use other transactions for research and development prototype projects.

GAO said OFPP has accomplished many of the tasks, including asking each agency to designate a chief acquisition officer and setting up a CAO Council. The SARA advisory panel also met twice, and a proposed rule to encourage performance-based contracting is in the works.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who sponsored SARA, reacted with frustration.

'It appears that the necessary rule-making procedures to allow many of the provisions to take full effect have been exceedingly slow in some areas,' he said in a statement. 'While I'm encouraged by the progress of the administration in some areas, I feel that the implementation should be further along, nearly 1 1/2 years after the enactment of SARA.'

'OFPP worked closely with GAO on the report and generally concurs with the report's findings,' said Sarah Hawkins, spokeswoman for the Office of Management and Budget.

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