Data on contractor past performance is missing or inaccurate

Four interagency databases designed to warn contracting officers about a company’s past performance are riddled with problems that can become expensive agency boondoggles, a senator declared at an oversight hearing Thursday.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., blasted as “shockingly old and clunky” the databases pioneered by the Navy and now administered governmentwide by the General Services Administration, calling for more complete information on whether contractors, for example, have been suspended and debarred.

She criticized the Office of Management and Budget for not sending a witness to a hearing she held as chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs contracting subcommittee. McCaskill also said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services “could have avoided a black eye” for the “very public failure” of the rollout of the website last fall had it been able to discover more on the past performance of the contractor CGI Federal.

Since passage of the 2002 E-Government Act, agencies have sought to consolidate and centralize online data on contractors’ performance history including contract terminations, criminal acts and administrative adjudications. The chief databases that managers may consult include the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS), the Federal Awardee Performance Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) and the System for Award Management.

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Top contractor for background checks charged with fraud

The contractor that performed federal background checks on such headline personalities as National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden and Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis has been accused of fraud by the Justice Department.

Falls Church, Va.,-based USIS, which had already been the subject of a False Claims Act suit filed by former employee Blake Percival, drew the intervention from Justice’s Civil Division because it “failed to perform quality control reviews in connection with its background investigations for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management,” Justice said in a complaint filed Wednesday.

Under the False Claims Act’s qui tam, or whistleblower provisions, a private party is eligible to sue on the government’s behalf and may receive a financial settlement. After a preliminary investigation of Percival’s claims, the department asked a U.S. District Court in Alabama to allow it to file its own complaint against USIS by Jan. 22, 2014.

“We will not tolerate shortcuts taken by companies that we have entrusted with vetting individuals to be given access to our country’s sensitive and secret information,” Assistant Attorney General Stuart Delery said in the complaint, which was prepared last fall. “The Justice Department will take action against those who charge the taxpayers for services they failed to provide, especially when their nonperformance could place our country’s security at risk.”

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HHS chief seeks investigation into Affordable Health Care website contracts

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Tuesday asked the department’s inspector general to investigate the contracting process behind the government’s botched rollout of the online health insurance exchange in October.

In a letter to Inspector General Daniel Levinson, Sebelius said it’s critical to understand the factors that contributed to the failed launch of “I am requesting that your office undertake a review of the work of our contractors, and the management of and payments to those contractors, in the development of,” she wrote.

Specifically, she requested an investigation of the acquisition process; contractor selection and project management; contractor performance and monitoring; and payments to contractors throughout the process.

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VA contracts with non-VA medical providers lacked performance requirements, GAO says

Some Veterans Affairs Department contracts with non-VA medical providers didn’t contain specific performance requirements and contracting officer  representatives didn’t have time to monitor the contracts due to other duties,  an Oct. 31 Government Accountability Office report says.

Of the 12 contracts GAO reviewed from the four VA medical centers, 10 lacked specific performance requirements in  one or more of six categories: type of provider or care; credentialing and  privileging; clinical practice standards; medical record documentation; business  processes; and access to care.

In one case, a VA medical center cardiothoracic contract didn’t contain a  statement describing the contract provider’s responsibilities for reporting and responding to adverse events and patient complaints.

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Prolonged Government shutdown would impact contractors

A government shutdown, particularly if it is prolonged, will affect more than just federal workers and their families. The large number of people employed by federal contractors and subcontractors could be at risk of furloughs, delays in pay, and adverse impacts to the companies they work for.

Paul Light of New York University pegged the total number of federal contract employees at 7.6 million in 2005, according to the Congressional Research Service in a 2011 report.

The Congressional Research Service stated in a recent report that the two fiscal year (FY) 1996 shutdowns impacted contractors. It noted the effects on the densest geographical concentration of federal contractors: “Of $18 billion in Washington, DC, area contracts, $3.7 billion (over 20%) reportedly were affected adversely by the funding lapse… employees of federal contractors reportedly were furloughed without pay.”

If a shutdown lasts much more than a handful of days, the impacts will likely be much greater on contractors this time around.

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Pentagon buys untested mobile security system for 300,000 users

Pentagon officials did not test product performance before purchasing a potentially $16 million service intended to secure smartphones and tablets for 300,000 military personnel worldwide.

In late June, the Defense Information Systems Agency inked a deal for software and training to support government-owned mobile gadgets used by the entire Defense Department, along with members of the Coast Guard, National Guard and military reserve forces. The product selection process did not require technology demonstrations, according to contract filings.

The “mobile device management” system is critical to ensuring unclassified consumer brand devices that touch military networks do not infect Defense systems or leak information if they fall into the wrong hands.

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Sequestration is ‘dumbest fiscal management policy ever conceived’ – NDIA chair

[Editor’s Note: With Congress scheduled to vote on the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act this month, sequestration will be the giant hiding behind the door.   The effects of sequestration are ignored by the bill (as they are ignored by the administration’s budget.)  Into this vacuum steps the chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association, who heads EADS NA, the North American subsidiary of the European defense giant. Read below what Sean O’Keefe believes must be done.]

Forrest Gump was right. “Stupid is as stupid does.” It is coming as no surprise that “sequestration,” the dumbest fiscal management policy ever conceived, is already producing some pretty mindless results.

As bad as the damage is from enduring automatic salami-slicing of budget line items, perhaps what is worse is the evisceration of already low public confidence in both legislative and executive branch leadership, coupled with the complete demoralization of the career public service facing furloughs on a regular basis for the next several months.

Sequestration was created by frustrated budget negotiators who felt that the pain it might portend would be so great that surely wiser heads would prevail and a budget deal would be achieved. Clearly, the negotiators underestimated our government’s capacity for sustaining self-inflicted wounds. It is as if the now-recognized “Mayhem” guy of Allstate commercial fame has found a new job.

The reports are just beginning to come in, but you don’t have to look hard to find plenty of near-term decisions that will make savings at the margin only to create larger bills in the future. Public leaders don’t try to make nonsensical decisions — but there is something about the current budgetary environment that makes such actions more likely. It is as if we have rendered null and void Winston Churchill’s observation, “Gentlemen, we have run out of money, now we have to think.”

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DOD must continue to educate military personnel to work with, manage civilian contractors, report says

Civilian contractors play a vital role in the Defense Department, but  experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan with contractor-related waste and  mismanagement led the military and Congress to rethink how they will be used in  future operations.

The military is reevaluating how it works with contractors, specifically  training officers to work with and better understand how contractors do their  jobs, a May 17 Congressional Research Service report  (.pdf) says.

The report found that contractors made up at least half of the deployed  forces in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan. In March 2013, there were some  108,000 DoD contractors in Afghanistan, making up 62 percent of the total force.  Of this number, there were 18,000 private security contractors, compared to  65,700 U.S. troops. The report notes that many government officials and analysts  admit that the military is so reliant on civilian contractors that it cannot  carry out long term and many short-term operations without them.

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Secret ‘man caves’ found in EPA warehouse

A warehouse maintained by contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency contained secret rooms full of exercise equipment, televisions and couches, according to an internal audit.

EPA’s inspector general found contractors used partitions, screens and piled up boxes to hide the rooms from security cameras in the 70,000 square-foot building located in Landover, Md. The warehouse — used for inventory storage — is owned by the General Services Administration and leased to the EPA for about $750,000 per year.

The EPA has issued a stop work order to Apex Logistics LLC, the responsible contractor, ensuring the company’s workers no longer have access to the site — EPA security officials escorted contractor personnel off the premises on May 17 — and ending all payments on the contract.

Since awarding the contract in May 2007, EPA has paid Apex Logistics about $5.3 million, most of which went to labor costs. Conditions at the facility “raise questions about time charges made by warehouse employees under the contract,” the report said.

“The warehouse contained multiple unauthorized and hidden personal spaces created by and for the workers that included televisions, refrigerators, radios, microwaves, chairs and couches,” the IG report said. “These spaces contained personal items, including photos, pin ups, calendars, clothing, books, magazines and videos.”

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Procurement chief: Measure contractor performance

Joe Jordan, the top White House procurement official, recently told a gathering of government officials and contractors how he and his wife sometimes travel to New England and look for places to stay along the way. He wasn’t giving travel advice, though.

The remarks, delivered at an acquisition conference in Washington, aimed to highlight a way the government can improve how it does business.

“It really bothers me at a personal, visceral level that when I look for a bed and breakfast because my wife and I are going away for the weekend, I have vastly more descriptive information … about the quality of bed and breakfasts within a three-hour drive of D.C. than what many agencies have when they answer to a $20 million IT services contract,” Jordan said. “That’s ridiculous.”

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