The final year of President Barack Obama’s final term has turned out to be a busy one in terms of federal acquisition policy. Ever since the crash of Healthcare.gov, the president has made it part of his core mission to improve the way the government buys IT. And he has often employed executive orders—somewhat controversially, depending on your political persuasions—to push through social policy changes within the federal contracting space, when he hasn’t been able to advance legislation. In just the last year, the White House has put muscle behind its category management initiatives, issuing policies to reduce duplication and centralize spending around computers, software and mobile devices and services. The Federal CIO has also issued policy encouraging the use of open-source code, as well as literally rewriting the book on federal IT with Circular A-130, the guide to federal IT.
So with all of that in the past, what should we see coming down the road as the elections near? Here are a few key regulatory and legislative signposts to keep an eye on:
- The 2017 NDAA: Both the House and Senate armed services committees have made acquisition reforms central to their versions of the annual, massive defense spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The proposals coming out of the House have been relatively modest but generally well-received. The House wants to see a shift toward prototyping as a means to streamlining and speeding up the defense acquisition process. It’s also placed an emphasis on open architecture as a means to increasing competition. The White House has objected to a proposal out of the Senate to break up the chief acquisition office in the Department of Defense and create two offices, one for research and engineering and another for management and support. A June memo claimed the proposals had not been thoroughly reviewed and tested. We’re likely to see some compromises in the coming weeks as both chambers look to get the bill passed.
- Transactional Data Rule: The General Services Administration is rolling out a pilot of its transactional data rule, an amendment to the General Services Acquisition Regulation (GSAR) that essentially requires contractors on Federal Supply Schedule contracts to report an array of data monthly, such as descriptions, part numbers, quantities, and prices paid for items purchased. The rule has been met with resistance by contractor associations, who see it as something burdensome and in danger of violating proprietary information.
- Documentation Proposed Rule: The FAR Council has proposed a rule, required by the 2015 NDAA, to require “contracting officers when purchasing supplies or services that are offered under theFederal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI), but the FSSI is not used, to document the contract file to include a brief analysis of the comparative value, including price and non-price factors, between the supplies and services offered under the FSSI and those offered under the source(s) to be used for the purchase. Small business advocates have rallied against the rule, claiming it will squeeze out small businesses.
- Panel 809: The Department of Defense has announced a brand new council—titled Panel 809—to assess the defense acquisition system’s regulation from tip to tail. The 18-member panel will look at every regulation on the books, and assess it for effectiveness and/or redundancy, and eventually make a recommendation to either keep, tweak or remove the regulation. That report is expected in two years.
There are of course a number of other regulatory and legislative balls in the air. The president recently signed the MEGABYTE Act to improve spending on software licenses, and the fallout from the recent Supreme Court decision finding the Department of Veterans Affairs is required to always follow its “Rule of Two” will both bear watching. And as the president’s term comes to a close, don’t be surprised if we see more initiatives come through in the next few months.