What Fixes Would You Make to the FAR? – Plus the 7 Gov Stories

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But up front: What fixes would you make to the FAR?

The Federal Acquisition Regulation — the FAR, as most people call it — can be daunting… and that is without even getting into the numbers that make it feel even more overwhelming.

Of course, one of the most daunting parts of the FAR is that it is The Law — and there is this fear that failing to follow the FAR will result in jail time. (Somehow it is OK to drive 75 in a 55, but a government official having a conversation with industry about their challenges — THAT is a crime?)

And there is the ongoing debate: Has the FAR created the most fair, most respected, least corrupt procurement system and acquisition process in the world… or is it a bureaucratic mess that stifled change and innovation?

Steve Kelman, the professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Clinton administration, when the last significant procurement reforms took place, recently asked the question: What needs to be fixed in the FAR?

Posting in his Federal Computer Week blog:

[There are a] number of efforts underway — including a “Buyer’s Club” led by Health and Human Services Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak and a TechFAR document being prepared at the Office of Federal Procurement Policy under the leadership of the indefatigable Mathew Blum — to lower the fear factor in the government IT community around the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and to emphasize flexibilities available in the regs…

We do, however, need to ask ourselves whether there are important areas of IT contracting where the FAR actually is a genuine impediment, as opposed merely to a vague source of fear. I have two nominations, involving very different kinds of IT procurement – purchasing web design and stand-alone web app services from new, innovative firms, and then contracting for agile development. I’d like to get a dialogue going about whether these are genuine obstacles, and whether there are others that should be added to the list.

I am not a contracting expert — and don’t pretend to be one. That being said, it seems that the FAR is bloated and actually hinders agencies ability to get good value. Kelman suggests eliminating some provisions for specific items. It seems that the FAR — and the layering of executive orders focused on government contractors — makes for an overly complex process that scares people — both inside government worried about jail time, but also companies who wouldn’t consider government work.

That being said, I love that people like Sivak and the under-appreciated Blum… and, of course, Kelman… and looking to take steps to move what seems an intractable system.

The SEVEN stories that impact your life

  1. USA Today: Economy rebounds to 4% growth pace in Q2- “U.S. gross domestic product, which measures the output of goods and services in the economy, expanded at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4% in the three months ended June 30, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. Consumer spending, business investment and inventory stockpiling all rebounded strongly. Economists surveyed by Action Economics expected 3% growth.”

  2. NPR: Senate Approves $8 Billion Transportation Package- “The Senate approved a bill Tuesday that would keep transportation dollars flowing until December. But it has not yet solved the problem of how to avoid any disruption in highway spending.”

  3. Stripes: Just what’s in the VA reform bill, and can lawmakers pass it before recess?- “Capitol Hill lawmakers signed off Monday night on a detailed $17 billion compromise to overhaul the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs. The plan cracks down on employee wrongdoing but also directs billions into growing and studying the department after a nationwide scandal over long wait times and falsified records.”

  4. FCW: How IT reform could still pass Congress this year- “According to media reports, the House GOP leadership is pressing to complete a “Big Four” list of issues before the upcoming August recess: a vote on the supplemental request to deal with the influx of unaccompanied minors across our border; reform of the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs; reauthorization of the federal Terrorism Risk Insurance Act; and passage of a short-term continuing resolution to keep government funded and operating at current levels into the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.”

  5. Federal News Radio: GSA cuts 1,000 noncompliant vendors from IT schedule- “The General Services Administration is culling the IT schedule herd. Over the last year, GSA has cancelled the Schedule 70 contracts of about 1,000 vendors. Kay Ely, GSA’s director of IT schedule programs in the Federal Acquisition Service, said removing 1,000 vendors who weren’t meeting the minimum annual sales requirement of $25,000 a year is saving the agency about $3.2 million a year in administrative costs.”

  6. Government Executive: Many Part-Time Feds Will Soon Be Eligible for Federal Health Benefits- “Thousands of previously ineligible federal employees will soon have access to the government-sponsored health care package, the Office of Personnel Management announced Tuesday. Currently, temporary, intermittent and seasonal employees who work for fewer than six months each year are not eligible to enroll in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. OPM issued a proposed rule, however, to grant many of those workers access to the insurance benefit.”

  7. Nextgov: After Delays, UCSIS Sets New Deadline for Digital Immigration Records- “Computerizing casework at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is a major difficulty and will be a key priority going forward, new USCIS Director Leon Rodriguez said Tuesday in his first congressional appearance. Since 2008, the agency has unsuccessfully attempted to digitize the paper folders personnel currently use for evaluating the immigrants’ legal status.”

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Peter Sperry

The FAR is too far gone to be fixed. It needs to be repealed and replaced with an entirely new set of procurement rules focused on empowering business unit managers to negotiate the best deal possible for their organizations given their unique circumstances. The new rules should explicitly state that ensuring some ill defined concept of “fair” competition is a much lower priority then getting the best deal possible for the taxpayers with the least investment of time and effort in the procurement process. Challenges to procurement awards should only be allowed if there is clear and convincing evidence of criminal misconduct in the contracting process.

Christopher Dorobek

Peter… It sometimes feels like the famous Mark Twain quote: I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead. The FAR sometimes feels as if it is covering everything that COULD happen — and what gets lost are the principles that guide good contracting and procurement.