House Panel Moves Bill Urging Federal Buyers to Consider Quality, Not Just Cost

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va. Andrew Harnik/AP

Also: the House Oversight Committee approves a measure promoting social media monitoring in clearance investigations.

The number of federal contracts that use the lowest-priced bid as their major deciding factor would be substantially limited under legislation forwarded by House Oversight lawmakers Wednesday.

The Promoting Value Based Procurement Act would discourage agencies from relying on “lowest price technically acceptable” contracts unless the contracting officer has demonstrated that non-price factors, such as a company’s expertise or the quality of particular technology, are unlikely to make a big difference.

The bill would also require a government auditor to report on each time agencies pick a contractor based primarily on cost and why the agency chose to do so for the next three years. That provision would apply to contracts valued over $5 million.

Similar provisions were approved for military and defense contracts in the most recent version of a major defense policy bill.

Contractors have long complained that lowest-price contracts limit their ability to offer the good or service that would be most beneficial to the government.

The use of such contracts has become too rigidly applied and “started to calcify some large chunks of contracting in the federal sphere,” one of the bill’s co-sponsors, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said during the markup.

“When an agency seeks the assistance of a company to help it analyze and address cybersecurity needs, for example, it might not know the extent of services that will eventually be needed,” Connolly said, and “quality and innovation must be considered.”

By contrast, “when the federal government is buying pencils,” he said, “price should probably be our overriding concern.”

The bill was approved on a voice vote without any dissent. It now proceeds to the House floor.

During Wednesday’s markup, the committee also approved the Social Media Use in Clearance Investigations Act. That bill would require the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to study several pilot programs that incorporate social media checks into security clearance investigations and evaluate whether such pilots could be broadened.

Clearance investigators have been slow to incorporate social media monitoring because of privacy concerns and because there are fewer established metrics to flag things that might be concerns.

The committee also approved the Connected Government Act, which would require new federal websites to automatically adapt to mobile devices.

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