Contracting officers given overly high marks by Army

Army contracting apparently is like the schools at Lake Wobegon — everybody is above average.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers fell victim to the biggest bid-rigging scandal in the history of federal procurement in 2011 — the same year the Army’s cadre of more than 5,600 contracting officers received unusually stellar job ratings.

Out of 5,670 contracting officers, just two received an unsatisfactory performance rating in fiscal 2011, while more than 60 percent of the Army’s procurement workers were given the highest rating of “role models,” according to a previously undisclosed 2013 Army Audit Agency review that found “there are few, if any, consequences for unfavorable contracting practices.”

Even personnel working in “high-risk” offices often managed to score above-average job-performance ratings, according to the report, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, which officials said signaled widespread problems of job ratings in government reviews.

“It’s not just contracting officers,” Harry Hallock, the Army’s deputy assistant secretary for procurement, acknowledged in an interview with The Washington Times on Thursday.

“It’s frankly across the Army, across DOD, across the federal government. I think over time we have had an issue with performance appraisals matching performance,” he said.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/jun/19/contractors-are-given-overly-high-marks-by-army/?page=all#pagebreak

Senate testimony: Intelligence community needs to keep better tabs on its contractors

The 17 agencies in the intelligence community must get a better handle on the extent of their reliance on contractors, witnesses told a Senate panel on Wednesday. Overuse of outsourcing presents risks to both national security and managerial efficiency, senators and an auditor warned.

“Contractors can provide flexibility and unique expertise, but there are risks” if internal controls, formal planning and documentation are inadequate, Timothy DiNapoli, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. “Changes to the definition of core contract personnel limit the comparability of the information over time,” he said, noting that the civilian intelligence community agencies used various methods to calculate the number of contract personnel and did not maintain documentation to validate the number of personnel reported for 37 percent of records reviewed. GAO also found that the civilian intelligence community agencies either under- or over-reported contract obligations by more than 10 percent for one-fifth of the records.

Panel Chairman Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said, “The people we entrust with leadership roles at these agencies need to be able to show the American people, and Congress, that they know who is working for them and why.” Overreliance on contractors behind the intelligence agencies’ secrecy walls presents three hazards, Carper said: hollowing out the in-house workforce and making it weaker, requiring extra layers of management and paying more for work that could have been performed by federal employees.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.defenseone.com/management/2014/06/intelligence-community-needs-keep-better-tabs-its-contractors/86758/

Avoid single-bid procurements by engaging early with industry, GAO says

Reaching out to industry early in the procurement process can prevent situations where only one vendor bids on a contract that is supposed to be competitively awarded, the Government Accountability Office says.

As part of a report dated May 5, GAO auditors reviewed the Defense Department’s single-bid contracts, whose combined dollar value is in the billions annually.

They also spoke with vendors, who said they’re more likely to bid on a contract if they hear about it as early as possible. They often make their decisions about whether to bid before a request for proposals is published and the 30-day solicitation period ensues.

Vendors may not want to spend the resources to prepare a bid if they don’t feel confident in their prospects of winning the award, especially if there’s an incumbent contractor that appears to have performed well so far.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/avoid-single-bid-procurements-engaging-early-industry-gao-says/2014-05-06

To improve the contracting workforce, improve training

The need for additional staff resources is the most frequently cited response to improving government contracting. In recent years, considerable resources have been invested in hiring and educating our biggest asset, human capital. This additional staffing and education has so far met with mixed results. This is because people are only as effective as the experience and education they have received.

Contracting executives frequently mention the need to develop judgment, reasoning, and analytical skills, as well as to obtain real-world experience. These goals can be met through exposure to diverse acquisition and operational scenarios. Three years of varied contracting experience (simplified acquisition, major systems, source selection, and acquisition planning) is better than 10 years of doing the same, simplified, repetitive tasks over and over, yet still moving up the career ladder. When that situation occurs, specialists get up to senior levels but with limited experience and knowledge, inhibiting their ability to assume the leadership responsibilities they were intended to.

This occurs because agencies want to fill their positions, even though most applicants did not have the opportunity to obtain the necessary variety of experience, which may require moving from one position to another.

Many smaller agencies cannot offer internships or rotations to round out their experience because of the limited nature of their acquisition mission. In some cases, the agency or firm has the overall resources, but is not organized to manage professional development.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140530/BLG06/305300015/To-improve-contracting-workforce-improve-training

 

Federal IT reform could include bonuses for procurement staff

One plan to overhaul how the government buys and builds information technology systems would establish an awards program for excellent IT acquisition staff, including “monetary incentives.”

Language in the plan passed by the House multiple times – most recently last week — directs the Office of Personnel Management to develop a program “to recognize excellent performance by federal employees and teams in the acquisition of information systems and IT,” a summary of  the legislation said. The bill also “requires such policies to include guidance regarding the award of cash bonuses and other incentives.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/2014/05/federal-it-reform-could-mean-bonuses-procurement-staff/85321

DOL could go it alone with acquisition platform

The Labor Department is seeking information on commercial capabilities that could help it better manage acquisition information as a subscription.

The department is interested in a dashboard that could provide access to regular acquisition news updates, and access to Government Accountability Office and other legal decisions, it writes in a May 12 request for information posted to Federal Business Opportunities.

This platform would also provide easy access to forms, templates and checklists, as well as other acquisition related tools and information.

Although the post is not a direct solicitation, even the department’s interest in such technology is notable given the concurrent efforts already underway within government to address the acquisition process.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/dol-could-go-it-alone-acquisition-platform/2014-05-15

Public-private group envisions ‘acquisition of the future’

A group of industry and government procurement officials looking to build a new technological and procedural path for the acquisition community is spreading a wider net for participants.

In a FOSE panel presentation on Acquisition of the Future’s aspirations, one of the drivers of the movement, ASI Government CEO Kymm McCabe, said the effort is aimed not at finding a specific solution, but in starting a conversation. For it to gain traction, the conversation that has been taking place for the last few months among a relatively small number of CIOs and industry officials has to spread more widely among the tens of thousands of government acquisition professionals.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/05/14/aof-looks-for-new-acquisition-path.aspx 

FAR Part 1: ‘If it’s not prohibited, it’s allowed’

The May issue of Contract Management magazine, the publication of the National Contract Management Association, featured an article called “Secrets of Superstar Contracting Professionals.” The article (which unfortunately is not available online to non-NCMA members) is by Christoph Minarchik, a lawyer in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and offers a quick guide to overall skills and competencies that freshly minted contracting professionals need to become outstanding in their profession.

I was happy (and, I will confess, flattered) to see, in a section of the article called “Innovation and Risk-Taking,” a short quote from Part 1.102(d) of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, reading in its entirety as follows:

“In exercising initiative, Government members of the Acquisition Team may assume if a specific strategy, practice, policy or procedure is in the best interests of the Government and is not addressed in the FAR, nor prohibited by law (statute or case law), Executive order or other regulation, that the strategy, practice, policy or procedure is a permissible exercise of authority.”

The author went on to state that these words have “reached a near-legendary status in the contracting community,” and that “hushed whispers of it echo through acquisition program offices, [where] grizzled contracting officers vigorously defend it as they pound the table to bolster their case.”

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/blogs/lectern/2014/05/far-part-1.aspx?admgarea=TC_Management

OFPP, FAI launch new acquisition training and certification

The Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting has not been updated since 2008, but that’s about to change — and the revised FAC-C will include specialized training for IT procurement.

A May 7, 2014 memo from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) outlined the new certification, and OFPP Associate Administrator Joanie Newhart and Tony Grayson, acquisition program executive at the Federal Acquisition Institute, detailed the curriculum and the thinking behind it during a May 13 presentation at FOSE.

“Nobody’s happier than I am that this certification has been issued,” Newhart said.  The old FAC-C is general and lacks a specific course on Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) fundamentals — whereas the Defense Department’s Defense Acquisition University (DAU) has long offered such training, along with a wide range of advanced coursework.

Keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/Articles/2014/05/14/OFPP-FAI-new-acquisition-training.aspx?p=1 

Federal contracting’s bright side

Reviewing government contracting trends over time often yields some surprising results. Then again, sometimes it doesn’t.

One result is while the acquisition environment may appear dire in the short run, the overall picture is quite optimistic. For example, while spending increased dramatically during the early 2000s, owing to two of the longest wars in American history, the “severe” drop off in government contracting that started in 2010 leaves spending still almost 40 percent higher than in 2002, adjusted for inflation. Not so bad for the government contractor community!

Of course, contract spending by the Department of Defense dwarfs that of all other agencies combined. Yet, while some agencies have seen significant drops, the overall reduction is mitigated by the huge amount of spending that continues.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140508/BLG06/305080010/Federal-contracting-s-bright-side