House panel aims to discern challenges for defense industry

Wednesday - 2/8/2012, 9:21pm EST

Allan Burman, president, Jefferson Consulting

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The House Armed Services Committee has held a series of hearings in recent months taking the temperature of industry and defense experts on the relationship between contractors and the Defense Department.

Allan Burman, a former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and now the president of Jefferson Consulting, testified before the panel Monday, sharing his perspective on improving business practices in DoD procurement.

In his House testimony, Burman, who joined In Depth with Francis Rose to discuss his remarks and the broader issues of contracting and regulation, pointed to three areas that he said are "fundamental to any sound acquisition system."

  • Transparency in operations and an understandable bidding process

  • Fair selection process, absent of bias and conflicts of interest

  • A climate where competition is "normal"

Burman also listed open communication between government and industry and the value of streamlined regulations. "They're the kind of concepts that everybody would like to see in any kind of a good procurement system," he told In Depth. "One of the problems that you run into is that there becomes a lot of pressure to try to get things done. People look to ways to kind of cut corners in order to do things more quickly."

Workforce struggles to keep up

Over the past decade or so, contracting obligations — particularly at the Pentagon — have skyrocketed, Burman told the panel.

"As federal contracting dollars continue to increase and the number of large, complex procurements continues to grow, federal contracting staffing has struggled to keep up," he said in his prepared remarks. He cited a 122 percent increase in contract spending in the 10 years prior to 2010, while the acquisition workforce only grew by about 20 percent during the same period of time.

That has led to "crippling workloads" and low morale, he added.

And as the Pentagon prepares to pare down in the coming years, Burman said that will have implications for the department's acquisition personnel.

"As these budgets get cut back, there's going to be efforts to cut back on people as well. And given the importance of getting good contractor support, it's important that the department really pay attention to seeing that they've still got enough people to do the job," he told In Depth.

Another point of concern Burman raised in the hearing was what he called a shift to contracting techniques "that really don't make a lot of sense" for all types of procurements.

Burman was referring to an approach known as lowest price, technically acceptable — or LPTA — contracting, which he said is better suited to commodity purchasing than for sophisticated procurements.

"There you really want to have a good look at what people can bring to the table that's beyond the bare minimum," he said.

This story is part of Federal News Radio's daily DoD Report. For more defense news, click here.