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The Legislative Spigot Never Sleeps

Posted by robert_antonio, 23 May 2011 · 1,129 views

If you've been in federal contracting for more than 15 minutes, you've probably read or heard about the many contracting laws. When you talk about contracting legislation, you're talking about Congress. When you're talking about Congress, you're talking about its many committees and subcommittees. Committees and subcommittees can do two things: conduct hearings (often raking contracting agencies or contractors over the coals) and introduce contracting legislation. An individual representative or senator can introduce contracting legislation too but often it is done for their constituents to see or hear about during elections or constituent visits. I post updates of new contracting legislation every week and here is what Congress has added since January 2011.

At the beginning of the last Congress or thereabouts, I remember seeing the birth of several new subcommittees dealing with federal contracting. One new subcommittee was the Senate Ad Hoc Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight. As you can see from the list of hearings at the link, subcommittees can give a politician a pulpit from which to get noticed. Subcommittee chairman also can introduce and push new contracting legislation into the mix of other contracting bills. If you like new contracting bills, you like new subcommittees.

Some other subcommittees dealing with contracting are: House Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management; House Subcommittee on Technology, Information Policy, Intergovernmental Relations and Procurement Reform; and House Subcommittee on Contracting and Workforce. More hearings; more bills. Not that bad so far? Well, some subcommittees are stealth subcommittees.

Here are the House and Senate committees and their subcommittees. Notice the subcommittees of the full committees that contain the words "oversight and investigations" or just "oversight." Think of these as small predators waiting in the weeds for prey, in this case a contracting activity that has gone astray. These subcommittees can conduct hearings and introduce legislation to cure a perceived problem, or if you prefer, add to the problem.

Then there are subcommittees or full committees with oversight of a specific agency or agencies. If they identify a contracting issue related to their specific agency, they may hold a hearing, identify a perceived contracting problem, and introduce "corrective" contracting legislation for the specific agency. Since the effect of the legislation would be restricted to a specific agency it may be passed with little difficulty. For example, have you ever found yourself doing something weird when no other contracting agency does it? If you have, you may have stumbled upon the effects of an agency-specific piece of contracting legislation.

I've been saving the best, or worst, for last. Of all the Committees that have done more to the contracting process, no others stand above the House Armed Services Committee and the Senate Armed Services Committee. These committees remind me of the annual flu season. It comes around every year about the same time and you hope you don't catch it. Of course, you usually do. Take a look at Wifcon.com's analysis of the annual defense authorization acts. After decades of annual legislating, it seem like these committees are only kicking around the rubble. Since the defense authorization bill is an anticipated annual event, all members of Congress can use the legislation in an effort to tack on a pet bill. If amendments are allowed to the authorization bill on the floor of the House or Senate, it may end up as a legislative free-for-all.

After the Armed Services Committees, we can lump together the, House Committee on Small Business, the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. These 4 Committees land intermittent haymakers to the contracting process, and when they do, their legislation can be major new laws. Often, these committees get their legislation included during the defense authorization process.

By the time contracting legislation is passed by Congress, it has made it through a gauntlet of political maneuvering. Often, there are compromises. One of the more amusing compromises I remember happened over 25 years ago. The bill would have had a significant impact on the contracting worforce. After some amendments, the bill only would affect contract specialists at field activities. Headquarter activities were exempt. After more amendments, the bill would only affect very high graded contract specialists. Few, if any, contract specialists were at those levels in the field activities. Eventually, the bill was signed into law and it did little or nothing. Hopefully, more contracting laws will do little or nothing in the future.