Take the contracting hot tub time machine back a few years to the early 1990s. Mötley Crüe was topping the charts, and government reform zealots shifted the thinking about how the government should operate, including how it should purchase good and services. Some of those reforms have been hits, others have not.
Today, the Obama administration is attempting to shift the contracting culture back to one that places a premium on spending taxpayer dollars wisely. Revolving doors have been closed, outside influences have been mitigated, contracting advice has been distributed, and acquisition memos have been published.
One aspect that hasn't changed is the endless stream of government reports highlighting failures in the contracting processes and wasteful federal spending. In March, the House Armed Services Committee's Panel on Defense Acquisition Reform issued its findings and recommendations. One reporter described the buzz around the release of the report with one word: "crickets." The report highlights the need to improve the acquisition system, requirements definitions, the work force, and financial management systems, and to increase competition. POGO can't argue with any of these recommendations, but wonders how this report is any different than other government reports that are collecting dust on book shelves. What does the DoD and Congress plan to do with the results of this study – ignore it, nibble around the edges, or make a real attempt to resolve contracting deficiencies?
A recent report by the DoD IG provides a great example of the pitfalls of poor contract planning and oversight. Due to poor contract requirements and oversight on a KBR vehicle maintenance contract (LOGCAP III task order 159) in Iraq, KBR racked up millions in costs for maintenance services that were not required. According to the report, "KBR utilization reports indicated that from September 2008 through August 2009, there were 213,570 available man-hours for tactical vehicle field maintenance services, but that only 14,068 actual man-hours were needed to perform the maintenance required by the Army." One article stated that "what the military got was as many as 144 civilian mechanics, each doing as little as 43 minutes of work a month, with virtually no oversight."
The Army has taken steps to correct the problem, but once again, taxpayers are left footing the bill. I hate to sound too skeptical, but these reports, and the long life-span of many of the problems that are identified, make me wonder if waste, fraud, and abuse are too big for the government to fix. Are these problems a mere cost of doing business? A recent State IG report says that contractor performance is directly related to federal oversight, but can we oversee everyone all the time? History repeats itself in many of these reports, but we are often stuck in the same 'ol situation (S.O.S.).
-- Scott Amey