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Lawmakers skeptical of OMB contracting plans

By Ed O'Keefe

Lawmakers tepidly responded to the Obama administration’s new contracting guidelines Wednesday, arguing that the Office of Management and Budget did not provide enough guidance to federal agencies and departments on how to cut their contract spending.

Agencies and departments have until Monday to present plans to cut 7 percent of their contracting budgets over the next two years. They must also hire at least 5 percent more contracting officers over the next five years, meaning at least 500 new hires across the government, according to OMB.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chairwoman of the Senate’s contracting oversight subcommittee, said the new instructions don’t do enough to hold agencies accountable if they don’t cut contracting costs.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) called OMB’s instructions “boiler plate,” and criticized the lack of concrete plans, saying later: “I’m tired of studies. I’m tired of working groups. I want to see action.” She joined Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) in expressing concern that the government will not properly train or retain enough contracting officers.

OMB Deputy Director for Management Jeffrey Zients said his agency will expand an internship-style program to train entry-level and mid-career contracting specialists.

“There’s an opportunity I believe given how interested people are in serving and given the state of this economy, to bring people in who are experienced,” Zients said.

Zients also assured lawmakers the administration will keep close tabs on agency contract spending and planning and that Tuesday's guidelines are just the beginning.

"I think it’s fair the train has left the station, I think it’s moving pretty fast, but trust me, I’m going to have the pedal to the metal and try to move it even faster and get more done," he said.

By Ed O'Keefe  | October 28, 2009; 5:40 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Contracting, Oversight  
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