No clear path to procurement reform

Tuesday - 3/10/2009, 8:24pm EDT

Steve Ryan

Without proper guidance, reform could go either way.

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By Brian Drew
Internet Editor,
FederalNewsRadio

President Barack Obama has signed off on a measure to reform the government procurement process.

Steve Ryan, partner and head of the Government Strategies Practice Group at McDermott Will & Emery, says that this measure could go either way.

"It could be quite meaningful if it's carried out to fruition," says Ryan. "On the other hand, there's not much guidance on what it really means."

The president called for an end to no bid contracts, and called for greater competition for contracts. Ryan says that this is the opposite of many of the procurement reforms made in the 1990s.

The interesting thing about competition is that agencies spend a lot of their time avoiding it. So, if you're at a DOE lab, you argue that when the lab was competitively procured that was the important competition, and now we can do whatever we want as we spend the government's money down into the next level... For every competition that occurs, it may forestall lots of other genuine competitions that occur.

Ryan says that no matter how much competition or transparency that there will still need to be money and time spent investigation contracts after they happen.

I think we've always all agreed that you need both, you need to have a good strategy for the procurement on the front end to avoid problems in the rear, but you have to have people looking at things to make sure the government got what its due. The problem is that a system that's becoming unbalanced. There is not enough competition; there is not enough of the head-to-head competition that gives transparency.

The president has still not named a director of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, or Deputy Director of Management, and the reforms are supposed to be completed by September. Ryan says that Vivek Kundra, who was nominated as the first Federal CIO last week, may be the person that needs to step up to the plate.

"He is a truly innovative thinker," says Ryan. "And the question is, can you innovate when you have the size of procurement budget that the federal government has."

Ryan says that there will likely be investigations into public contracting.

"I think frankly, that it is time to reconsider what the procurement reforms of the nineties have given us," he says. "And look at whether we are competing things adequately. And I think the answer is no."

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On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio - PSC: Open dialogue needed for contracting reform

Dorobek Insider - Obama talks government procurement - a broken system, he says

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