Restrictions, more work await USAID and contractors in proposed bill

A new bill that aims to increase accountability and cut waste and fraud in overseas contracting threatens to increase red tape, downplay due process and duplicate efforts in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s work.

Democrat Senators Jim Webb of Virginia and Claire McCaskill of Missouri introduced the bill, titled the Comprehensive Contingency Contracting Reform Act of 2012, on Feb. 29. It was based on recommendations made by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan in August. The commission found as much as $60 billion went to waste and fraud in wartime contracts in the two countries, C-Span reports.

Angelique Crumbly, USAID acting assistant administrator for the Bureau for Management, told members of the Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight that the agency understands the “significance” and “motivations” behind the proposed legislation, and welcome parts of the bill. However, Crumbly raised several issues, including the automatic suspension of contractors, and contract and subcontracting limitations.

Section 113 removes the right of contractors to “due process” in cases of fraud, waste or abuse allegations. Crumbly said USAID agrees in dealing “swiftly” with such cases, but the legislation removes the “procedural protections” for a review of the allegations. Also, it “reduces” the discretionary authority of the suspending and debarring official.

Section 201, meanwhile, seeks to limit contingency contracts to three years and contracts awarded with no competition to one year. Crumbly said this might not result to “more competitors,” as was intended. She said time limitations “may be suitable” for “some contracts.” However, the majority of USAID contracts need “longer timelines” to achieve desired development outcomes (i.e., health programs).  Crumbly suggests contracting officers or those managing programs in countries be allowed to set the lead times as they know best the needs “on the ground.”

Crumbly also raised concerns on subcontracting limitations. She said contractors will need “no less than two tiers” in the majority of cases — a common practice the agency implements in Afghanistan. The bill allows for waivers, but this will only add to more work for those in war zones.

Crumbly said USAID has already put several policies in place to control sole source awards as well. However, additional approval requirements may potentially duplicate efforts and place a “heavier workload” on staff members. She said justifications and approvals are automatically posted online on FedBizOpps.gov.

As for combating human trafficking, the Professional Services Council said the new bill places “excessive requirements” on contractors that will be “impossible to meet.”

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About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.