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A Few Surprise Smiles from HASC for Accountability in Defense Contracting

H.R. 4310

Each year, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)--the massive defense spending bill--becomes an omnibus contracting bill of sorts. Generally, stand-alone contracting bills aren’t sexy enough for hearings or committee passage, so many of those bills are reintroduced as amendments to the NDAA. This year is no different, and some of POGO’s recent recommendations were on the table. Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) offered several amendments that are close to our heart yesterday during the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) markup of the NDAA.

  

One Speier amendment that was adopted requires the Department of Defense (DoD IG) Inspector General to review the DoD revolving door database, including reporting on the number of requests for ethics opinions made by military officials seeking employment with a defense contractor and noting when such records are missing. POGO has fought a long battle to bring transparency to the DoD revolving door database, and this will at least help us find out how well the system is working.

   

Representative Speier also proposed an amendment requiring DoD to calculate service contracting costs. Specifically, the amendment would require DoD to collect additional data about the labor, hours, and costs of contract workers compared to government workers. If this sounds familiar, it was a topic of a hearing before Senator Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) contracting subcommittee in March, to which POGO provided written testimony, including a recommendation that the government improve service contract inventories. Unfortunately, the proposed amendment was not accepted by the House Armed Services Committee. But perhaps Speier or another Member will offer the amendment for the entire House to consider when the NDAA is on the floor next week. We may also have prospects on the Senate side.

   
 

Representative Robert Andrew (D-NJ) proposed an amendment that was approved by the Committee that requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review and report on DoD’s methodology for comparing civilian, military, and contractor costs.  POGO requested such a study in our Bad Business report and our recent Senate testimony. Billions can be saved if the government actually looks at the true cost of the workforce that it is hiring.

   

Despite our effort to generate support for the DoD’s legislative proposal to precisely define commercial items, a proposal that will save billions of taxpayer dollars, no one in HASC took on the issue. It appears that the Committee opposed DoD’s proposed legislation. We hope to have better luck on the House floor or in the Senate, where there is more of a bipartisan sense that commercial item procurements have been subject to abuse and that a fix is required. What that fix will be is impossible to predict. Buying non-commercial items as “commercial” prevents government access to data that allows it to ensure that taxpayers are paying reasonable prices. Would you buy a car without seeing the window sticker? I don’t think so, and DoD shouldn’t blindly buy $75 billion in goods and services under the presumption that a commercial market exists for these good when often times the items are only purchased by the DoD.

HASC does not have the final word. The whole House will consider amendments to the NDAA next week, and the Senate Armed Services Committee will begin consideration of their version of the bill the week of May 21. We still have a chance to turn those frowns upside-down!

By: Scott H. Amey, J.D.
General Counsel, POGO

scott amey Scott Amey is General Counsel for the Project On Government Oversight. Some of Scott's investigations center on contract oversight, human trafficking, the revolving door, and ethics issues.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Budget, Defense, Open Government, Revolving Door

Authors: Scott H. Amey, J.D.

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