Contracting Officers: Take a Look, It's in a Book

House Oversight Committee member Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va.,

House Oversight Committee member Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., J. Scott Applewhite/AP

"The problem is the average contracting officer doesn’t know how."

A bill to reform how the government buys and manages technology came up this week at a hearing about the security of -- but contracting officers willing to plunge into some heavy reading may discover they already have a lot of the capability they need.

While Republicans grilled Obamacare officials about a recent hack -- and other vulnerabilities -- of their signature website, one Democrat used the occasion to plug what may be his favorite piece of pending legislation: The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA.

“Isn’t information security related to how well we’re managing our IT assets?” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., asked officials. He gave a brief description of what FITARA would do for IT managers; the bill actually has plenty of support and seems only to await action.

Until then, though, it's not as though contracting officers have no recourse.

On Friday,, a unit within the General Services Administration, blogged about a few new resources acquisition officers already have at their disposal to buy technology smartly.

Procurement staff can use the new Digital Service’s TechFAR Handbook as they try to make Federal Acquisition Regulations work for agile projects, which the document defines and explains. The handbook is still a first draft -- you can suggest improvements. A final version is expected soon, though presumably that will also be a somewhat living document.

Then, there’s the White House’s Innovative Contract Case Studies, which describes a variety of acquisition approaches and gives examples of actual procurements that used them.

These documents are not light reading, but understanding what they are and how to refer to them would likely help the typical contracting officer.

GSA’s Chief Information Officer Sonny Hashmi recently told an AFCEA Bethesda breakfast gathering the current regulations are capable of getting the job done.

“Yes, the FAR needs to modernize. The FAR is not perfect,” he said. “But if you want to do agile development, you can absolutely do that with the FAR. The problem is the average contracting officer doesn’t know how.”

Here's my tweet of that Connolly quote: