McCaskill faults DoD's acquisition oversight in wartime waste

Wednesday - 8/31/2011, 7:44pm EDT

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

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By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said the Wartime Contracting Commission's report finally may get her fellow lawmakers to understand the need to rebuild the federal acquisition workforce.

McCaskill said Wednesday two areas in the commission's final report jumped out to her was the culture at the Defense Department and the lack of qualified and too few contracting professionals as main reasons for at least $31 billion lost to waste and fraud in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The commission detailed 15 strategic recommendations in its 240-page report, including improving the planning for the use of contingency contracts, expanding competition, improving interagency coordination and cancelling U.S.-funded projects the host nations cannot sustain.

"I think there have been so many mistakes made and I'm hoping this report will allow a platform for continued looks at contracting in contingencies and I certainly as chairman of the subcommittee on Contracting Oversight intend to go at this as hard as I know how," said McCaskill during a teleconference briefing with reporters. "The Defense Department, the State Department and USAID, they all need the kind of oversight so they realize particularly in this budget climate, we cannot waste this kind of money under the umbrella of contracting practices."

She added the commission's estimate of waste and fraud is conservative.

But when it comes to the acquisition workforce, McCaskill said the $31 billion in waste, fraud and abuse should be a wakeup call for Congress to realize the need for better training and more workers.

"I think the dirty little secret that has now been exposed-in fact this goes governmentwide and not just in wartime contracting-is that if you don't have the personnel that work for the federal government, rather than increase the personnel and the costs associated with that, go out and contract," she said. "This has occurred to a large extent in the Department of Homeland Security, it's occurred in a number of places and we have been doing that while we have hollowed out our acquisition personnel. We need to make investment in government employees that know how to police this and we frankly have dropped the ball in that regard."

As of fiscal 2009,DoD's acquisition workforce in the GS-1102 series stood at 21,975 and grew by more than 2,000 employees over the previous year. But since 2000, DoD's 1102s increased by only 3,000 total.

The Obama administration has made the acquisition workforce a priority across DoD and civilian agencies. The White House requested $16.9 million for fiscal 2012 to improve the training of civilian workforce and bring it up to par with what is offered to DoD personnel.

In fact, the Federal Acquisition Institute held an industry day today for training providers to discuss the current and future status of the training and certification programs within the civilian workforce. The event focused on training development, scheduling, delivery and the evaluation process.

McCaskill said training and hiring more acquisition workers is only half the battle. She said DoD doesn't take acquisition oversight seriously enough.

"We have wartime colleges. We have all kinds of training for the military. But when I went to Iraq, the guy that was in charge of overseeing the contracts in the unit was the low guy on the totem pole that was handed a clipboard," she said. "The attitude, too many time in the military, 'I want what I want when I want it,' instead of 'I want what I want when I need it and I've got to prepare for that so I make sure I get a value for what I'm buying.'"

She said DoD must reconcile the immediate needs of the military with the long-term costs and value.

McCaskill said both the Defense authorization and Defense appropriations bills could include provisions addressing the Wartime Contracting Commission's recommendations.

"This report provides further proof that vigorous management of contracts is central to successful outcomes — in government and in business," said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. "That is a lesson that must be applied not only to wartime contracting but to contracting across all federal agencies as we seek to improve government performance, especially in a struggling economy. When Congress is back in session, I will convene a public hearing as soon as possible to consider the report and what steps must be taken to implement its recommendations, many of which I have long supported - such as building a cadre of skilled contracting officials within the federal government, preventing contractors from performing inherently governmental functions, ensuring rigorous auditing, and improving the integration of military and civilian agencies in overseas reconstruction efforts."

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