Senate passes DOD authorization bill, tackles acquisitions

After almost a decade of cuts and stagnation, the Senate took the first step toward reinvigorating the Defense Department's acquisition workforce.

In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal 2006, lawmakers called for DOD officials to increase the number of acquisition employees by 15 percent by fiscal 2009. The bill also calls for a focus on hiring workers with skills in specific areas, such as writing performance-based statements of work, systems engineering and conducting public-private competitions under Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76.

The Senate passed its version of the bill 98-0 last night. The bill now heads to conference with the House so the legislative bodies can iron out their differences. The House version did not contain any of the same acquisition provisions. Both the Senate and House Armed Services committees passed their versions of the bill in May; the full House also passed its version in May.

Under the provision, the Defense secretary could realign the workforce to meet the top six skill gap priorities. The secretary also should assess how the agency recruits, retains, re-trains and provides professional development for acquisition professionals over a 10-year period beginning in 2006.

Congress cut DOD's acquisition workforce in half during the 1990s, and retirements and private-sector opportunities have continued to shrink the agency's contracting workforce.

Part of the reason for the Senate's action is recurring acquisition problems in DOD that have sprung up over the past year, including the Air Force scandal involving Boeing Co. and Darlene Druyun and DOD's aptitude for 'parking' billions of dollars in the General Services Administration's Federal Technology Service's IT Fund and using it for non-IT purchases.

The Senate bill also would extend the share-in-savings program by two years until 2007 and gives employees bid protest rights to the Government Accountability Office under A-76. The share-in-saving provision expired in September after two years of inactivity because OMB never finalized the Federal Acquisition Regulation rule. And some members have been supportive of giving feds bid protest rights for more than a year.

In addition to increasing the number of acquisition professionals, the bill calls for DOD to move all purchasing for goods and services over $100,000 to Contract Support Acquisition Centers by Sept. 30, 2009. Each service would establish a center, and the director of the center would develop policies, procedures and guidelines for acquisition planning, solicitation and contract awards, requirements development and management, contracting tracking and oversight, performance evaluation and risk management.

'Creating a new organization will not solve the problems,' said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an industry trade association in Arlington, Va., and former DOD acquisition official. 'First and foremost, this is a workforce issue. Until we get serious about the many levels of workforce challenges, no rule, no policy or structural change will deliver the results we seek.'

The bill also called for the Defense Acquisition University to review and report to the undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics and Congress the contracting structure of each service and defense agency. DAU will:
  • Determine the current structure of the organization

  • Review the evolution of the current structure and identify any areas that have been divested in the past 15 years

  • Identify capabilities needed by the organization and assess the capability of the organization to provide those skills and

  • Identify any gaps or shortfalls for each organization.

DAU should start with the Air Force, and eventually perform an evaluation for every service and Defense agency.

'We keep tinkering with structure and policy, but we haven't really gotten our arms around the biggest issue: the workforce,' Soloway said. 'I think the fundamental issue here is our failure to meaningfully invest in the workforce and meaningfully resource the workforce to do the job we want them to do.'

Senators also added a provision that would require the Army to buy any future pieces of its Future Combat System through the Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 15, which insists on full and open competition and cost and pricing data, instead of under FAR Part 12, which is the streamlined method for commercial acquisitions.

'There are some on the Hill that think we should buy weapons systems using commercial buying methods. There are certain pieces [for which] you can [do it], but this is a continued evolution of the process. It has been a matter of contention. So they want DOD to use traditional buying authorities,' Soloway said.

Finally, the secretary would set up a risk assessment team to assess the vulnerability of Defense contracts to waste, fraud and abuse. The team would include the inspector general and representatives of each of the services, the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Contract Management Agency and the Defense Contract Audit Agency. The risk assessment team would submit a report to the secretary and Congress within six months after the bill becomes law.

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