By Emelie Rutherford

The defense authorization bill the House passed last Thursday includes an extensive acquisition reform package touted by a House watchdog but labeled by the White House as burdensome and costly.

The fiscal year 2009 defense authorization bill includes the so-called “Clean Contracting Act of 2008,” which would limit or curb the use of sole-source, non-competitive, and cost-plus contracts, as well as lead-system integrators. The successful amendment crafted by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) pulls together these and sundry other reforms sought by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee he chairs.

Waxman’s measure “is a response to pervasive waste, fraud, and abuse uncovered by congressional, GAO and Inspector General investigations,” his committee said in a statement Thursday after Waxman plugged the amendment on the House floor and the chamber voted to fold it into the defense bill.

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget cited the contracting reform initiative as one of its “additional concerns” in a lengthy statement of administration policy (SAP) issued last Thursday. The SAP cites 10 other primary provisions in the defense authorization bill that could spur a veto from President Bush, though Waxman’s amendment– which at the time of the SAP’s release was not yet officially included in the bill–is not specifically dubbed veto bait (Defense Daily, May 23).

“The Administration would strongly oppose burdensome and costly government-wide statutory requirements contained in the amendment entitled the ‘Clean Contracting Act of 2008,'” the SAP says.

“Many of these provisions would unnecessarily complicate ongoing administrative efforts to strengthen federal acquisition and grant activities and policies,” the statement says. The SAP highlights as a particular concern “a requirement to develop an unwieldy database of information on contractors and grantees that would unfairly expose them to possible Government-wide exclusion without appropriate safeguards.”

The amendment calls for a database “of information regarding integrity and performance” of federal contractors and grant recipients.

The publicly accessible database would apply to people who in the past five years were fined at least $5,000 following government proceedings, lost federal contracts or grants due to default, or were subject to federal suspensions or debarments.

The General Services Administration, under the direction and control of the Office of Management and Budget, would maintain the database, under Waxman’s amendment.

In general, the “clean contracting” measure is intended to enhance competition in contracting, limit “abuse-prone” contracts, rebuild the federal acquisition workforce, strengthen anti-fraud measures, and increase transparency in federal contracting, according to a summary.

The 53-page amendment has five organizing sections: enhanced competition, curbing abuse-prone contracts, acquisition workforce, anti-fraud provisions, and enhanced contract transparency.

It has received attention for prescribed whistleblower protections for contractor employees and a requirement for linking award fees to acquisition outcomes.

The same comprehensive “clean contracting” package is not contained in the version of the FY ’09 defense authorization bill that cleared the Senate Armed Services Committee, though the Senate panel’s bill includes some similar initiatives. The full Senate has not yet taken up the defense bill.