In 1996, Congress passed the Clinger-Cohen Act, which eliminated the exclusive authority of the General Services Administration to acquire technology and allowed individual federal agencies to assume that role.
“Simplification and efficiency were very much on the mind of the Congress,” said William Woods, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office. “There are a number of elements in the Clinger-Cohen Act that are designed to promote those goals.”
Since 1965, the General Services Association had exclusive authority to buy information technology goods and services on behalf of the federal government. This came about with the passage of the Brooks Act, which allowed for contractor selection based on technical knowledge and competency — not price alone.
“Prior to the Clinger-Cohen Act, the way it worked is that agencies would essentially have to go to GSA with a business case saying, ‘This is the IT procurement I want to do. I’ve done all my research on it, developed a business case analysis, why this makes sense from a business and an economic perspective for my agency,'” said Roger Waldron, president of the Coaltion for Government Procurement. “GSA would review that. They had a whole office that was reviewing these business cases and GSA would then issue a delegation of procurement authority and grant that agency the ability to go to the procurement on their own. Or, GSA would do it on their behalf.”
“The thought in the ’60s and ’70s was that a centralized approach would better serve the interest of federal agencies,” Williams said. “That centralized approach worked for a time, but over time, it became slow and cumbersome.”
“Clinger-Cohen continued the approach of the ’90s of the ’90s of less regulation, more mission-orientation, less of centralization of procurement decisions,” said Steve Kelman, the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy from 1993-1997. “The big change that Clinger-Cohen made to the acquisition system was getting rid of the GSA Board of Contract Appeal.”
That board was a special bid protest body that had been set up originally in the Brooks Act to hear complaints from disappointed bidders on contracts, specifically in the IT area.
“It was very, let’s call it, ‘pro-protester and anti-government decision,'” Kelman said. “It second-guessed government decisions a lot and almost all major IT contracts were protested through that GSA Board of Contract Appeal and they had a much more lenient standard for upholding a protest than the GAO does.”
Clinger-Cohen introduced the use of Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts, which allow agencies, once they have specific needs, to place orders against those contracts to streamline the process.