VA still needs to improve oversight of project management system for IT projects, audit says

The Veterans Affairs Department has taken steps to improve a project management process designed to make sure its IT projects are completed and delivered on time, but an internal audit found that accountability and oversight still need to be strengthened.

The department’s inspector general issued a follow-up audit Jan. 22, 2015 to the development of the Project Management Accountability System, or PMAS, that was begun back in 2009.

“PMAS represented a major shift from the way VA historically planned and managed IT projects because it focuses on delivering functionality in increments instead of delivering a complete product at the end of the project,” the IG’s report said.

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Proposed line item rule to trace contract funding

The U.S. Department of DefenseNASA and the General Services Administration on August 5, 2014  proposed changing federal acquisition regulations for line items in government contracts to standardize the system and make it easier to trace.

The DOD, NASA and GSA proposed to amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation in fiscal year 2016 to establish a uniform line item identification structure providing pricing, delivery and funding information on items purchased, improving the traceability, accuracy and usability of federal procurement data, according to the proposal published in the Federal Register.

Funding traceability is currently limited to contract-level information, making it harder to implement governmentwide initiatives such as strategic sourcing, according to the rule. Tracking in the new line item identification structure, including keeping tabs on unit pricing in fixed-price contracts, will help trace funding from the time it’s obligated through the time it’s spent, the rule states.

“With this proposed rule, the federal procurement community continues to improve standardization of a unique instrument identifier, moving the procurement community in the direction of enhancing the uniformity and consistency of data,” according to the rule. “This, in turn, will promote the achievement of rigorous accountability of procurement dollars and processes.”

The new rule would apply to solicitations, contracts including governmentwide acquisition contracts and multiagency contracts, purchase orders, agreements involving prepriced supplies or services, and task and delivery orders, according to the rule.

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Procurement troubles still dog Defense Department

Congress has held hearings over the past 30 years seeking ways to fix the Defense Department’s poor procurement system.

A June 24th hearing offered interesting ideas.

No headlines afterward about stopping F-35 costs from skyrocketing, keeping new production of nuclear aircraft carriers on schedule or halting the failure of billion-dollar computer programs — in fact, there was hardly any press coverage at all.

Two worthwhile ideas that came from the four experienced procurement specialists who appeared before the House Armed Services Committee provided no silver bullets, but they made sense.

  1. Give the main contracting officer for major weapons projects absolute cradle-to-grave authority and responsibility and accountability.
  2. Interservice rivalry and even intraservice competition have far from ended, and they harm the procurement system.


Agencies setting off into the next data frontier — procurement

Agencies are starting to grasp the real value of procurement data. Several agencies are asking the General Services Administration, NASA and others for more details on what they buy, how they buy it and how they could make better decisions.

NASA, for example, is working closely with the Veterans Affairs Department to provide them with an assortment of data points around energy efficiency, such as how VA’s IT products are rated for Energy Star or E-Peat. NASA also plans to provide VA with information about how their purchases meet the Trade Agreements Act and about their buying habits based on product classifications.

Joanne Woytek, the program manager for NASA SEWP governmentwide acquisition contract, said the fact that VA and other agencies are asking for and receiving this type of data is a sign of maturity for both the GWAC providers and the agencies in understanding what’s available and why the data matters.

“I’ve seen this happening more with our contracts and SEWP V. A lot of what we are putting into that is to make it a more mature model. We can’t just say, ‘we can do that,’ we will actually demonstrate the things we can do,” she said at the 2014 Acquisition Excellence conference in Washington Thursday sponsored by GSA, the Homeland Security Department and ACT-IAC. “We will be able to show agencies what they are buying. We’re going to be able to provide them with more information. We always said we could do that, but we actually are going to start doing that. I think that’s going to have a bigger effect on agencies who no longer will say ‘I don’t want to use you because I’m not sure you can give me that information. I’m not sure you can control what we’re purchasing.’ We can do that for them and we’ll actually start showing that. So I see us having a better impact on people now that we’ve gotten to this point.”

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Trillion dollar government acquisition called ‘national scandal’

Days after the U.S. Defense Department signaled an improving relationship with Lockheed Martin Corp. over the cost of the F-35 fighter jet, Sen. John McCain called the program “one of the great national scandals.”

McCain, a Republican from Arizona and the 2008 Republican presidential candidate, was speaking during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing to consider the nominations of several White House appointments, including Deborah Lee James to become the next secretary of the Air Force.

McCain criticized the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as the government’s first trillion-dollar acquisition program (including sustainment costs). Its repeated cost overruns “have made it worse than a disgrace,” he said. Despite recent efforts to reduce prices on the next batch of aircraft, “it’s still one of the great, national scandals that we have ever had, as far as the expenditure of taxpayers’ dollars are concerned,” he said.

McCain, who also noted that the Navy’s new USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier is more than $2 billion over budget, was responding to James’ comment that the current budget environment is “chaotic” and makes planning difficult.

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