Could big-data analytics improve federal procurement?

Big data could be an important tool for federal procurement shops, but its usefulness depends on finding quality data and understanding how to use it to track vendor performance and pricing.

Several recent studies — a Government Accountability Office report, a CIO survey by TechAmerica and the IBM Institute for Business Value’s “Chief Procurement Officer Study” — all point to the same conclusion: Analytics and acquisition need to go to more of the same parties.

The Oct. 9 GAO report states that many agencies’ incomplete methods of performing market research affect their ability to make informed decisions about procurements.

Federal agencies are required by law to conduct market research, which the Federal Acquisition Regulation defines as the process used to collect and analyze data about capabilities in the market that could satisfy an agency’s procurement needs.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/10/10/big-data-procurement.aspx

GAO: Agencies not taking advantage of market research on lower dollar contracts

Federal agencies are taking advantage of market research for big dollar procurements, but are missing those opportunities for smaller contracts, an Oct. 9, 2014 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says.

All 28 contracts GAO reviewed included some evidence of the market research conducted. The contracts GAO reviewed were pulled from the Defense Department, Homeland Security Department, Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Department.

The market research conducted on the 12 higher dollar contracts GAO reviewed tended to be more robust and include more techniques that involved outreach to vendors, such as issuing requests for information to industry. That helped promote competition, the report says.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/gao-agencies-not-taking-advantage-market-research-lower-dollar-contracts/2014-10-13

The small-business conundrum

Recent news reveals that federal agencies overstated their success last year in contracting with small businesses that face socioeconomic disadvantages. It turns out that the Small Business Administration’s inspector general identified over $400 million of contract actions awarded to ineligible firms, thus overstating SB goaling performance in FY13.

Download the IG report here.

While reasons for misreporting are one issue, the perennial issue of meeting SB goals persists. Some people joke that when an agency fails to meet their SB target, the response is to increase it. Does goal setting work? Everyone agrees with fundamental ideals of small entrepreneurs and businesses bringing fresh ideas, outlooks, and solutions to government and societal problems.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20141008/BLG06/310080012/The-small-business-conundrum 

Feds buy back USASpending website after contractor bankruptcy

The government procured its own spending transparency website and the primary data system behind it on the same day last month the contract to manage the systems was set to expire, new documents show.

The move frees up previously contested federal contracting data, which will facilitate increased competition for future contracts, according to outside observers and the General Services Administration.

It’s unclear if the purchase became necessary to keep the site running or if the opportunity arose as a result of Global Computer Enterprises, Inc.’s financial instability, which led to a bankruptcy filing last month.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/big-data/2014/10/feds-buy-back-usaspending-website-after-contractor-bankruptcy/96251/

Arbitration of False Claims Act cases may bind the U.S.

False Claims Act (FCA) qui tam fraud claims must be arbitrated as a result of arbitration agreements signed by relators who have brought FCA Justice Dept. sealfraud claims on the government’s behalf, author Dino L. LaVerghetta of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP says, following the holding of a little-noticed case.

What’s more, he explains, such binding arbitration should bar the U.S. from later re-litigating issues decided in arbitration.

If so, this is a factor that both defendants and the Justice Department must weigh in assessing the grounds for DOJ to intervene in a qui tam case.

Read this article at: 

http://www.wilmerhale.com/uploadedFiles/Shared_Content/Editorial/Publications/Documents/LaVerghetta-BloombergBNA-Arbitration-of-False-Claims-Act-Cases-2014.PDF

 

Grand Canyon gets creative to attract bids on concessions contract

For nearly 100 years, Grand Canyon National Park has enjoyed a beneficial relationship with Xanterra Parks and Resorts, the nation’s largest parks tourism contractor whose corporate ancestors have sold lodging and concessions at the Arizona wonder since the late 19th century.

But in the 21st century, the cash-strapped National Park Service finds itself pressured to get creative in complying with a 1998 federal law requiring it to regularly solicit competitive bids for services.

The problem: Xanterra over the decades has invested up to $200 million in improvements to its hotel, gift shops and restaurants around the canyon’s South Rim, money it would be entitled to collect should the government yank its concession contracts. The chances of finding a competing concessions contractor willing to assume that debt to Xanterra are considered slim.

So in August, the Park Service announced a new approach. It would solicit a major concessions contract—worth more than $1 billion in potential revenue over 15 years—for the third time since 2013, the first private bids that came in having been deemed inadequate.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/09/grand-canyon-park-gets-creative-attract-bids-concessions-contract/95009

SEC audit reveals lapses in laptop inventory, possibly affecting more than 1,000 computers

An internal investigation found that the Securities and Exchange Commission must take more action to better track agency-issued laptop computers.

In the audit dated Sept. 22, the SEC inspector general said that the Office of Information Technology’s inventory failed to include current locations of machines from an operations center that closed last year.

The inventory also had incorrect locations for about 17 percent of the 488 laptops reviewed, incorrect user information for 22 percent of them, and could not account for 24 machines, the audit found. Additionally, the IG said that at least 88 asset management branch workers could delete asset records from the IT Service Management inventory database.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/sec-audit-reveals-lapses-laptop-inventory-possibly-affecting-more-1000-comp/2014-10-01

IG: GSA reduces credit card spending, needs more reform

Although more controls are needed, legislation to assist General Services Administration efforts to prevent waste, fraud and abuse at charge card programs has largely been helpful, an internal investigation found.

In an audit dated Sept. 29, the GSA’s inspector general said that GSA’s purchase card spending between fiscal years 2011 and 2013 fell from more than $69.3 million to about $33.6 million, and travel card spending declined from $17.1 million to about $4.2 million.

“We determined that the risks of illegal, improper, or erroneous purchases and payments made through GSA’s purchase card and travel card programs are medium and low, respectively,” the report states. “As such, we do not plan to conduct any audits of the purchase card or travel card programs in FY 2015.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/ig-gsa-reduces-credit-card-spending-needs-more-reform/2014-10-01

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Senate report contributes to discussion about acquisition reform and support for training

Last week, the U.S. Senate published a compendium of expert views on acquisition reform within the Department of Defense (DoD).  While the report contains no recommendations from the Senate itself, the Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations points out that the report documents shortcomings in the acquisition process that may serve to guide Congressional deliberations in the future.

The Oct. 2, 2014 report, entitled “Defense Acquisition Reform: Where Do We Go from Here?”, contains the views of 31 government Defense policy and procurement experts.  Significantly,

  • Nearly half of the experts feel that cultural change is required while over two-thirds believe improving incentives for the acquisition workforce is necessary for reform.
  • Two-thirds of the contributors feel that training and recruiting of the acquisition workforce must be improved.
  • Nearly half believe that DOD needs to attain realistic requirements at the start of a major acquisition program that includes budget-informed decisions.
  • More than half of the submissions noted the need for strong accountability and leadership throughout the life-cycle of a weapon system – with several experts stating the need to further integrate the Service Chiefs into the acquisition process.

Seal_of_the_United_States_SenateAbout 70 percent of the report’s contributors express the view that although Congress has taken steps to address deficiencies in DoD’s acquisition workforce, more should be taken. Several contributors state that the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund (DAWDF), which Congress established in 2008 to ensure that the acquisition workforce has the skills to ensure the DoD receives the best value for taxpayer dollars, should be continued and strengthened.

Former Administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) Dan Gordon, now Associate Dean at George Washington University Law School, states in the report that improvements in training through Defense Acquisition University (DAU) coursework will help the acquisition workforce “buy smarter” in the current budget environment.  Gordon notes that of the three phases of the contracting process — planning, award, and administration — the “weak links in our procurement system [are] poor acquisition planning, especially poor definitions of what the government is trying to buy, and lax contract management.”  These two problematic areas, notes Gordon, “are those least amenable to legislation” and instead tend to rely on the experience, judgment, and training of acquisition professionals.

Gordon calls for “better training for purchasing services, and creation of specialized acquisition cadres, at least in large entities such as the military services, to help run procurements in areas that demand education and experience in the field, such as the acquisition of IT and professional services.”

Many of the report’s contributors believe that DoD should create a clear career path for acquisition professionals similar to the military promotion system and designate acquisition billets to be on the same level as operational billets.  According to those contributors, that may grant more opportunity for promotion, thereby attracting a higher quality workforce.

The report includes input from many current and former officials, including the Pentagon’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics chief Frank Kendall; former Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman retired Gen. James Cartwright; former acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox; former Chief of Naval Operations retired Adm. Gary Roughead; former Air Force Chief of Staff retired Gen. Norton Schwartz; former F-35 program manager retired Vice Adm. David Venlet; and former President of the Defense Acquisition University Frank Anderson.

The full report is available here: Defense Acquisition Reform – A Compendium of Views – 10.02.2014

IG finds faults in training of contracting officer’s representatives in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service

A federal certification program, which establishes general training, experience, development and best practices for contracting officer’s representatives, isn’t being applied consistently, potentially leaving them without the necessary skills, abilities and competencies to do their jobs, a recent audit found.

Additionally, the General Services Administration’s inspector general said in the Sept. 29 report that a system designed to oversee the workload and certification status of contracting officer’s representative’s, or CORs, is only accessible to a few managers and supervisors. This means some CORs could possibly conduct unsanctioned work, opening the government up to potential legal problems.

Contracting officers authorize CORs to perform specific technical and administrative duties on contracts or orders. These CORs ensure that federal contractors meet their performance requirements and typically identify if a contractor or program is underperforming.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/gsa-ig-finds-faults-contracting-officers-representatives-training-program/2014-10-01

Read the IG’s report at: http://www.gsaig.gov/index.cfm/oig-reports/audit-reports/fy-2014-audit-reports-october-1-2013-to-september-30-2014/