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

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

Senior VA official pressured employees to award FedBid contracts

A Veteran’s Health Administration procurement executive pressured employees and worked the acquisition system to award FedBid contracts for reverse-auctions, a Sept. 26 Veteran’s Affairs Department inspector general report says.

The report says Susan Taylor, VHA’s deputy chief procurement officer, in 2010 pressured staff repeatedly in emails to speed up the acquisition process and pick FedBid – a Vienna, Va. based reverse auction vendor – for the reverse auction contracts.

The report says Taylor, “improperly disclosed non-public VA information to unauthorized persons, misused her position and VA resources for private gain, and engaged in a prohibited personnel practice when she recommended that a subordinate senior executive service employee be removed from SES during her probation period.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/va-ig-senior-official-pressured-employees-award-fedbid-contracts/2014-09-30

DoD will empower military branches to directly procure cloud services

The Defense Department is changing its approach to procuring cloud services, moving away from a two-year-old policy designating the Defense Information Systems Agency as the department’s de facto cloud broker.

In a new memo expected to be released by the end of October, the department’s new policies will grant cloud-buying power to the military services, according to officials. The new guidelines direct military officials to provide the DoD CIO office with detailed business case analyses for cloud decisions, while also complying with acquisition requirements and evolving cybersecurity mandates.

The forthcoming memo will replace the 2012 cloud strategy released by then-DoD CIO Teri Takai.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140924/FEDIT01/309240020/DoD-will-empower-military-branches-directly-procure-cloud-services

Hagel’s right-hand man on acquisition reform

Hagel needed to accompany President Barack Obama to Tampa, Florida, for a briefing at U.S. Central Command about the now-underway airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria. Hagel needed a trusted confidant to fill in for him at the Air Force Association conference in Maryland, so he turned to Frank Kendall, the Defense Department’s undersecretary for acquisition.

Hagel’s choice in Kendall to deliver the remarks he had already penned is the latest in a series of actions that demonstrates the close relationship two have developed over the past year, defense officials close to both men say.

Moreover, the relationship has helped elevate Kendall’s acquisition reform – or as he prefers to say, “acquisition improvement” – initiatives, the latest of which was unveiled last week.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.defenseone.com/management/2014/09/hagels-right-hand-man-acquisition-reform/95048/

Agencies and industry prepare for new contract

While waiting for the Homeland Security Department’s next IT acquisition vehicle to become fully operational, agencies and businesses are preparing for takeoff.

Vendors awarded contracts on the Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge Solutions II are participating in industry groups to learn more about requirements, promoting the vehicle to customers, strengthening their own capabilities to distinguish themselves from competitors, and maintaining partner relationships.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140904/ACQ03/309040011/Agencies-industry-prepare-new-contract

Reps ask GSA to affirm commitment to AbilityOne

The letter comes in the wake of a move by GSA earlier this year to decentralize some of their distribution methods, contracting with vendors to handle parts of the supply chain. The National Industries for the Blind, which the GSA formerly contracted through directly, initiated the letter from congressional representatives to remind the agency of its legal commitments under the Javits-Wagner-O’Day (JWOD) Act and AbilityOne program.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140919/ACQ01/309190015/Reps-ask-GSA-affirm-commitment-AbilityOne

Contracting officers: Take a look, it’s in a book

A bill to reform how the government buys and manages technology came up this week at a hearing about the security of HealthCare.gov — but contracting officers willing to plunge into some heavy reading may discover they already have a lot of the capability they need.

While Republicans grilled Obamacare officials about a recent hack — and other vulnerabilities — of their signature website, one Democrat used the occasion to plug what may be his favorite piece of pending legislation: The Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act, or FITARA.

“Isn’t information security related to how well we’re managing our IT assets?” Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., asked officials. He gave a brief description of what FITARA would do for IT managers; the bill actually has plenty of support and seems only to await action.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/emerging-tech/emerging-tech-blog/2014/09/you-already-have-power-procure-it-look-within/94607/

The GSA Digital Service’s TechFAR Handbook can be found at: https://github.com/WhiteHouse/playbook/blob/gh-pages/_includes/techfar-online.md

DoD to gather feedback on new military tech acquisition guidance

The Pentagon’s top weapons buyer formally released a draft of his proposed new guidance for acquisition reform last week, calling for a renewed focus on research and innovation to maintain the increasingly tenuous lead that the US holds in military technology over its adversaries.

Administration officials — including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel — have been telegraphing elements of the strategy for weeks, even though the final plan won’t be finished for months.

Speaking with a handful of reporters at the Pentagon on Sept. 16, the man leading the charge — Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics —said that the white paper he released on Friday is only the first full public airing of the proposed strategy.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.defensenews.com/article/20140919/DEFREG02/309190019/Pentagon-Unveils-Draft-New-R-D-Strategy-Waits-Industry-Hill-Weigh-In

Pentagon’s sole-source contracts continue to dwindle, says GAO

The Defense Department is doing its part to curb the number of sole-source contracts awarded without competition and is properly justifying—in most instances—their use to help develop small, disadvantaged businesses, an audit found.

The Government Accountability Office’s Sept. 9 report to the House and Senate Armed Services committees evaluated sole-source contracts worth more than $20 million under the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program and found that the Pentagon in fiscal 2013 continued a “significant decrease” in such contracts. It awarded five in 2013, each worth $20 million, compared with 27 contracts valued at $2 billion in 2009.

All five of the recent contracts were justified as being “in the best interest of the government,” though three of them failed to fully meet Federal Acquisition Regulation requirements that relevant officials sign off on them in a timely manner.

Fifty-five sole-source contracts were awarded under the 8(a) program over the past four years, the report found, led by the Army with 37, the Navy with 13, the Air Force with two, and three elsewhere in the department.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/defense/2014/09/pentagons-sole-source-contracts-continue-dwindle-says-gao/93899/