Doan urges balancing rules and results

Lawmakers are busy offering legislative fixes for recent government contracting concerns

Lawmakers have introduced several bills to curb contracting abuses, but the government's top contracting official says the legislation requires careful consideration. 'You can get so compliant that you have no accountability,' said Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration.

But Doan, whose own actions have come under scrutiny in recent weeks, said ignoring compliance with procurement rules in seeking the cheapest prices is equally wrongheaded. Good contracting strikes a balance between rules and results, she said.

Comparing the balancing act to a playground seesaw, she added, 'ideally, this is a seesaw that doesn't move.'

Contracting officers face many competing demands after a crisis such as Hurricane Katrina, Doan said in an interview. They are told to 'get this here, get this now and get this done.' Doan said she doesn't discount the importance of compliance with contracting rules. At the same time, she added, 'we don't want to spend so much time on being compliant that we don't get it done.'

Doan said new legislation that several lawmakers have proposed to curb contracting abuses is part of the process of maintaining a balanced procurement system. 'As life changes, as procurements change, you want to make [them] the most useful and the most accountable possible,' she said. However, some contracting experts warn that new legislative action might be too heavy-handed.

'The problem with legislation is that it's a battle-axe approach to a problem that oftentimes needs more of a scalpel,' said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

At least three major bills that deal with federal contracting concerns are in play at the moment.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) would ban the award of sole-source contracts valued at more than $100 million and require competition for task orders on multiple-award contracts when those task orders are worth more than $1 million.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, proposed legislation aimed at slowing the reverse revolving door. The measure would not allow executives who enter government service from a position in the private sector to award federal contracts to their former employers after they enter government.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced the Accountability in Government Contracting Act, which has the support of committee chairman Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.). The Collins bill focuses on a variety of contracting issues, including sole-source contracting announcements and responsibilities of lead systems integrators.

Collins' bill, although still in committee, could move forward fairly quickly, especially with Lieberman's support, several Senate staff members said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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