Every year, Congress passes the massive National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) bill to fund the Department of Defense, and like every large bill, members of Congress do their best to attach irrelevant legislation on it to ease its passage. And so procurement policy is no different. The Federal Information Technology and Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), for instanced, passed as part of the 2015 NDAA. There’s no major procurement-related bill included in this year’s NDAA—except of course the defense specific provisions, including the Senate’s bid to break up the civilian chief acquisition executive position into two jobs: one focused on engineering and another on acquisition.
But procurement policy is still being decided via the NDAA. For instance, last week a months-long controversy over the the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) protest jurisdiction was resolved, when its ability to hear protests on task orders worth more than $10 million will be restored. That authority had lapsed at the end of September, leaving a vacuum in the bid protest process, and the new agreement reportedly grants GAO permanent jurisdiction. With language stripping that authority removed from the NDAA, the Senate also passed a standalone bill on Wednesday that would grant GAO permanent jurisdiction over civilian agency task orders. “In the federal government’s issuing of contracts, transparency and fairness are always standards we should strive toward, and we are now one step closer to updating our laws and ensuring that civilian award protests can continue,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), one of the bill’s sponsors said in a statement.
And according to senior Senate Armed Services Committee aides who spoke to GovExec, language granting contractors “religious freedom” and language to head off some of the effects of the “Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces” rule have been stripped out of the current 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The committee reportedly now feels that a Trump administration may be able to address those concerns, and they don’t need to be included in the bill. The “religious freedom” clause was inserted to work against President Barack Obama’s executive order that prohibits discrimination against employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
The latter case is the perfect example of how procurement policy gets decided as a side argument to a conversation around defense spending. That Republicans no longer feel it’s necessary to leverage defense spending to get their bill passed just highlights the politics of the issue at hand.