By NEIL GORDON
Long-time POGO friend Pratap Chatterjee has written three excellent papers on federal contracting for the Center for American Progress (CAP). CAP's "Doing What Works" project promotes solutions that will boost government efficiency and accountability. Chatterjee, a Visiting Fellow at CAP, explores the money-saving and accountability-enhancing potential of contracting from three different angles and proposes many sensible recommendations. Here is a quick summary of the three papers, which you are encouraged to read in full by clicking on the heading links:
There is a simple way for the federal government to save billions of dollars while ensuring contractors do not perform inherently governmental functions—transfer certain jobs back to the public sector. In addition, the government should cut down on unnecessary layers of subcontracting, improve the cost data used in preparing service contract inventories, and streamline the federal hiring process. Insourcing will save money (as POGO reported in last year’s Bad Business report), eliminate conflicts of interest, and help the government build up and maintain vital in-house skills.
A single streamlined database that tracks fraud, waste, and abuse in federal government contracts will help save money. The President and Congress have taken major steps in this direction—USAspending.gov, FAPIIS, President Obama’s June 2011 executive order calling for the creation of a comprehensive system to track government spending, the General Services Administration’s forthcoming System for Award Management (SAM), and the Federal Accountability Portal system proposed in the DATA Act—but these reforms are not enough. More must be done to integrate the government’s multitude of contracting data systems, make sure officials have the relevant, timely and accurate data needed to make informed contracting decisions, and make this data (especially past performance data) available to the public.
To ensure taxpayers get the most bang for the buck, the government needs to strengthen its contract auditing practices. This means boosting the staff and funding at the principal contract auditing agency: the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA). The DCAA claims a return on investment of at least five dollars in recovered funds and cost savings for every dollar spent on its operations. DCAA should be allowed to operate more independently. The auditors at DCAA and other agencies should be given the authority to subpoena contractor records and conduct more risk-based and random audits. There should be “naming and shaming” and a fee withholding punishment for contractors with inadequate business systems. (POGO has testified about needed federal contract auditing reforms, including the creation of an independent federal contract audit agency.)
Chatterjee has written three separate papers, but he believes that federal contracting reform requires an integrated, “big picture” strategy. “Policymakers bicker endlessly over what is inherently governmental, what can be audited and how, who can win contracts and who cannot,” he told POGO. “It is high time to realize that we cannot take a fragmented approach with these issues.”
Neil Gordon is a POGO investigator.
Image via Mustafa Khayat.