Procurement officials predict increase in contractor accountability

New administration also is likely to promote more competition for task orders and better training for acquisition workers, panelists say.

Transparency and accountability will likely be top procurement priorities when President-elect Barack Obama takes office, federal acquisition officials said during a panel discussion in Washington on Thursday.

Contractors should expect more scrutiny than they received under the Bush administration, which focused on ensuring that agency actions were transparent, said Joanie Newhart, senior procurement executive for the Transportation Department, during a discussion hosted by the Association for Federal Information Resources Management.

"Accountability is now a shared responsibility," said Tyree Varnado, acting commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at the General Services Administration.

GSA recently began developing a contractor misconduct database mandated by the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, Varnado noted. The database will house information on all criminal, civil or administrative proceedings against contractors with awards worth more than $500,000.

Panel moderator Robert Burton, former deputy administrator for the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said industry officials are concerned that the database will include contractors that entered administrative proceedings because of technical problems. But panel member Lesley Field, acting OFPP administrator, said the database is "here to stay," despite concerns.

"It's the beginning of a conversation [between government and industry] and the focus will continue going forward," she said.

The Obama administration also is likely to place an emphasis on increasing competition for task orders and improving training for the acquisition workforce, panelists said.

Newhart praised a provision in the 2008 Defense Authorization Act allowing companies to protest large task orders. The rule, which took effect on May 26, is designed to increase competition for agencies' business.

"We do great with competition. The more competition the better," she said.

Field said OFPP has created a working group to examine competition in contracting.

"We want to make sure our processes are visible," Field said. "We want to make sure what we provide has the highest impact in pursuit of performance."

Varnado said GSA is well-poised to handle increased competition because of its e-Buy program, which generates electronic requests for quotes. In 2008 GSA processed more than 60,000 such requests through its Multiple Awards Schedules vehicles, an increase of 8 percent over 2007.

The panel members also discussed their plans for improving the federal acquisition workforce, with a particular emphasis on training and internship programs for employees beginning their federal careers. Burton and Field said increased funding has helped the Federal Acquisition Institute enhance its training programs.

Varnado said GSA has focused on training through its internship programs and has taken advantage of offices in places such as Kansas City, Mo., and Ft. Worth, Texas, to avoid competing for talent in the crowded Washington metro area. He also said GSA considers it crucial to have the capability of a "virtual workforce" that can conduct business via the Internet.