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House Armed Services OKs Contracting Act, but Differences Cloud Outlook

The House Armed Services Committee quickly and unanimously approved the Accountability in Contracting Act (H.R. 1362) on Tuesday morning, 53-0, but House Members must resolve differences over government-employee ethics rules before the federal contracting overhaul legislation moves to the floor later this week.

The bill would make major changes to regulations that cover federal acquisition regulations, including limiting the length and use of sole-source contracts, requiring additional auditing of contractors, and clarifying post-government employment rules for federal procurement personnel. All lawmakers present unanimously approved the bill on a roll call vote.

Democratic lawmakers have pushed for the legislation in the wake of federal procurement scandals, as well as concerns over the widespread use of sole-source contracts for reconstruction and military support work in Iraq. The bill could go the House floor by Tuesday.

But first, the House Armed Services bill will have to be resolved with similar legislation approved by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on March 8.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) offered the committee’s version of the legislation as amendment to original bill at the hearing. It was approved without any dissent, and no other amendments were offered.

Skelton said that both committees are in “agreement” about a majority of the bill, save for a few points.

The first difference concerns eliminating loopholes that bar federal officials from accepting any kind of compensation, including sporting tickets and other non-monetary compensation from consultants, lawyers and lobbyists. The Oversight and Government Reform version of the bill seeks to expand who this will apply to, whereas the Armed Services version will leave the current law intact, the aide said.

The other key difference concerns the “reverse revolving door” — that is, federal contractors subsequently coming to work for the government. It prohibits new hires from awarding federal work to their former employer for one year. The House Armed Services Committee legislation favors keeping the one-year ban, while the House Government Reform Committee wants to expand portions of the ban to include federal supervisors of the former contractors.

Republicans on House Armed Services said they had “serious concerns” about the House Government Reform Committee’s version, and they praised Skelton for making the changes.

Rep. Jim Saxton (R-N.J.), a top member of the House Armed Services Committee said that the original bill would have the cumulative effect of preventing the Defense Department from servicing warfighter needs in the most expeditious manner possible.”

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