Levin-McCain, Clinger-Cohen, Goldwater-Nichols: ‘Tis the Season to Read up on GovCon Rules

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If the cooling (or downright frigid) temperatures are any indication, the holidays are approaching, which for many mean impending vacations from work or school.

But, before you close the books just yet, ExecutiveGov takes you back to school on three key pieces of legislation dealing with the business of government contracting over the past 25 years.

When Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced his round of Defense Department efficiencies, many thought they felt the cool wind of winter already.

But as the political winds have shifted, calls for not just efficiencies, but defense cuts have entered the fray. Notably, President Barack Obama’s commission tasked with making recommendations on reducing the $1.4 trillion deficit pointedly advised taking the money freed up from DoD efficiencies, originally to be used within the Pentagon for enhanced weapons systems, and using it for deficit reduction.

Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright said the possibility that money saved within the Pentagon could be “migrated out” to be used for other purposes is a distinct possibility.

So, as we head into the holidays and a new year beyond that, it’s never out of season to read up on the GovCon rules of the road.

The Levin-McCain Act

Official Title: The Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009

When: Introduced February 2009 by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and signed into law by Obama in May the same year.

The most recent GovCon bill was passed in the early days of the Obama presidency. The bill was designed to address problems with wasteful spending, unreasonable performance requirements and problematic schedules. The legislation also sought to fix issues with costly mid-program changes that are often the result of unproven technologies.

One of the other cornerstones of the bill was to promote greater use of competition in weapons acquisitions, including developing second sources, periodic competitions for subsystem upgrades and, most important, un-bundling of contracts.

Levin-McCain also mandated that the Pentagon institute preliminary design reviews before giving approval to new acquisition programs.

In terms of keeping projects on schedule, the act required program managers to notify the Pentagon’s Milestone Decision Authority if the total costs of a weapons program grows beyond 25 percent, or if the schedule for the program slips by more than 25 percent, which could make it easier to terminate over-budget and behind-schedule systems.

Notably, the bill passed both the House and the Senate unanimously.

The Clinger-Cohen Act

Official Title: Formerly the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996

When: Signed into by President Bill Clinton in February 1996 after being shepherded through the House and Senate by Rep. William Clinger, (R-Penn.) and Sen. William Cohen, (R-Maine).

The Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, passed by Congress and signed by Clinton at a time when federal IT was just ramping up, was designed to reform acquisition laws and IT management of the federal government.

Overall, the bill established a comprehensive approach for agencies to improve their IT acquisition strategies.

For example, the law required each federal agency head to appoint an agency CIO with visibility and management responsibilities.

The legislation also required the secretary of commerce to promulgate standards and guidance pertaining to the efficiency, security and privacy of federal computer systems, and authorized the president to disapprove or modify such standards.

The act also states that executive agencies should achieve at least a 5 percent decrease in IT operation and maintenance costs each year for five years, as well as a 5 percent increase in efficiency of operations.

The Goldwater-Nichols Act

Official Title: Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986

When: Signed into law in October 1986 by President Ronald Reagan after being introduced in the House and Senate by Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and Rep. William Flynt Nichols (D-Ala.)

Recognized as enacting the most sweeping changes to the Defense Department since DoD’s establishment by the 1947 National Security Act, Goldwater-Nichols is the grandfather of the GovCon legislation that followed.

The legislation offered a complete restructuring and streamlining of military chain of command. One of the hallmarks of the legislation was its increased civilian oversight of the armed forces and its focus on interoperability. Goldwater-Nichols also increased the powers of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to improve management functionality.

It also sought to improve the Department of Defense budget process by increasing the authority and influence of the unified combatant commands that control U.S. forces, and creating a “joint officer specialization” within each service to improve the quality of officers assigned to the joint staff.

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