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Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009

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Location: Washington, DC


DUNCAN HUNTER NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009 -- (House of Representatives - May 22, 2008)

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Mr. DAVIS of Virginia. Mr. Chairman, I rise today to speak on the amendment filed by Chair Waxman to the FY09 Defense Authorization Act.

This amendment is an amalgamation of various government contractor-related proposals, many of which are currently working their way through the legislative process. Most of the more than 20 components of this amendment represent attempts to, quote, reform the Federal Government's acquisition system through restrictions and reports geared towards greater regulation and oversight.

More specifically, this amendment would limit the duration of contracts awarded under unusual and compelling conditions, require agencies to develop plans for the use of sole-source contracts, restrict the use of lead system integrators in acquisitions of major systems, restrict the acquisition of commercial services, and disclose the salaries of executives of privately held firms that are receiving government funds.

While I remain skeptical these provisions will do much to address the most serious problems facing our Federal acquisition system today, I very much appreciate that Chairman Waxman has worked with me to revise the provisions before bringing them to the floor to help ensure they don't impose undesired and unintended burdens on the acquisition system. In addition, I am pleased that the amendment includes a provision aimed at promoting a stronger and more robust Federal acquisition workforce.

Section 4301 of the amendment creates a government-wide acquisition workforce development fund funded by a percentage of the amount expended by agencies for service contracts to be used for the recruitment, the hiring, the training, and the retraining of our Federal acquisition workforce.

He noted that there are too many cost-plus types of contracts. This contract vehicle is only utilized when the government isn't sure of its requirements. How in the world can you fixed-price something if you don't know what you need and what your final requirements are? Having a better acquisition workforce to better define these requirements and having them in touch with their client I think is the best way to get rid of these cost-plus contracts which the chairman and others have criticized rather than trying to legislate into law limitations.

In fact, if this amendment were only to include the provisions in the acquisition workforce title we would be much better off because I think that does more to address the issues in government contracting and the excesses and the problems than anything else in here.

An endless stream of reports, an endless stream of restrictions and limitations really does very little to help our stressed Federal acquisition workforce cope with the increasingly complex demands of the Federal Government for goods and services.

Other provisions in the amendment, however, cause me more concern. Section 4403 of the amendment would give the Government Accountability Office the unprecedented and the new authority to interview private individuals employed by Federal Government contractors in order to get information during its audits. There are serious issues involved with forcing private citizens to talk to government auditors. What happens if the person doesn't want to talk? Can the GAO use its subpoena power? And who within the GAO would have such authority to order private citizens to talk? A senior GAO official? Any GAO functionary? A mid-level official? This is not a provision which has been discussed or debated in Congress. In my judgment, it is not ready for prime time. I think it has some merit, but I think it's going to need really some additional debate and research before it's implemented into law.

When the chairman intended to include this provision in a bill recently being considered by our committee, he withdrew it when I requested him to do so. I assumed at the time we would discuss and debate it before bringing it to the House floor. I'm disappointed that it has been unilaterally included in the amendment, which would otherwise, I feel, be all right to this authorization bill.

Further, Mr. Chairman, many other concerns that I have with this amendment are the same concerns I expressed last year when the House took up H.R. 1362, the chairman's Accountability in Contracting Act.

The Federal acquisition system has been under considerable stress in recent years because of the extraordinary pressures of a shrinking acquisition workforce combined with an increasing reliance on Federal contractors for major activities such as providing logistical support for our troops in Iraq. This strain has resulted in a series of management problems that have been trumpeted by the press and exploited by opponents of the system. Nevertheless, the systems work pretty well, and the vast majority of government acquisitions have been conducted properly. And in the cases where we have found fraud, the system has uncovered these in many cases, audits have uncovered these, and we've been able to deal with them.

I remain concerned that controls, reports, procedures and restrictions will not go very far in addressing the most serious challenges facing us today. Reverting to the bloated system of the past, weighted down with ``process,'' will not help the Federal Government acquire the best value goods and services the commercial market has to offer and our government so desperately needs and our taxpayers can afford.

As I have said many times before, reverting to the past under the rubric of fraud, waste and abuse and ``cleaning up'' the system may provide flashy

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sound bites and play well back home, but it doesn't give us the world-class acquisition systems that Federal taxpayers deserve.

More controls and procedures will not remedy poorly defined requirements or provide us with a sufficient number of Federal acquisition personnel with the right skills to select the best contractor and the best contracting vehicles to get there and manage the subsequent performance of those contracts.

Despite these concerns, I don't intend to ask for a rollcall, but I intend to oppose this amendment. And I hope to be able to work with Chairman Waxman and other interested stakeholders on these provisions in conference to try to make sure that we're not imposing unnecessary burdens on our Federal acquisition system.

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