Report: How unaccountable contracting fails governments and taxpayers

Contracting-out government services is a topic that stays in the news.

Units of local, state and the federal government usually are prompted to consider a contracting-out strategy as a means to save money.  It’s not unusual for such plans to be challenged by government workers, labor unions, and even taxpayers who think that good paying jobs will be eliminated and savings really won’t be realized.

But what about when a service is outsourced to the private sector.  Is it given the oversight and analysis that its should be afforded?  More directly, how carefully are contractors being watched?

Now, a non-profit organization devoted to the study of privatization and responsible contracting called In the Public Interest, has published a comprehensive report entitled, “Standing Guard: How Unaccountable Contracting Fails Governments and Taxpayers.”

The report makes the point that when local and state governments contract-out critical public services that are crucial to the well-being of the community, the need for robust contract oversight is pressing. However, research and the experiences of cities and states across the county show that too often contract oversight is lax.

Oversight is important so that government can hold contractors accountable for their performance, and ensure that the public receives quality services at a reasonable cost. Proper oversight can protect public health and safety. Strong oversight allows governments to catch waste, fraud, and abuse in real time instead of long after the fact, and correct mistakes before they result in serious harm.

To download and read the complete report, click here: 

Acquisition reform? Who says?

There is a lot of talk about the next generation of reforms and changes to the regimes of government acquisition policies, practices and culture.

But two stark examples emerged almost simultaneously in recent weeks that highlight just how far we have to go to create a federal acquisition system that is effective, efficient, responsive to the needs of customers, and enables access to the full array of capabilities the private sector can offer.

One example speaks directly to continued cultural challenges and the other to the mindset that drives far too much current policy and practice.

Let’s start with the culture. In a Nov. 7 article in Government Executive magazine, Kimberly McCabe, the CEO of ASI Government and Dan Chenok, the head of the IBM Center for the Business of Government, made a strong, thoughtful, and articulate case for thinking about acquisition in a holistic manner with an eye toward the realities of today and a very different future.

Moreover, their article outlined a new framework designed to describe and help measure organizational acquisition capabilities and maturity. And, perhaps most significantly, recognizing that the pressure for real, sustainable change has to come from within, the framework they outlined was largely the work of a group of federal acquisition and technology practitioners—from rising professionals to senior executives—they had convened.

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Pentagon’s buying managers resist IG’s call for central oversight office

The Defense Department’s acquisition operation would perform better with a central oversight office to improve organizational feedback on supply chain performance trends, the Pentagon inspector general said in a report dated Nov. 3, 2014.

pentagon-sealThe Office of the Defense Undersecretary for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics “has not established an overarching quality management policy to ensure the consistent application of quality management system requirements across DoD components,” the watchdog wrote. Creation of a central quality management oversight office would help reduce delays and cost overruns on major weapons systems by building in management steps “to evaluate and revise policies, procedures and guidance,” it said.

Citing past investigations and Government Accountability Office reports, the inspector general recited a litany of recent acquisition snafus: assembly of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle brought a four-year delay at a cost overrun of $750 million; the Advanced Threat Infrared Counter Measure/Common Missile Warning System came with a five-year delay and a $117 million cost overrun; manufacturing of the F22A Raptor Advanced Tactical Fighter was over budget by $400 million; and building of the Amphibious Transport Dock for the USS San Antonio underwent a three-year delay and a cost overrun of $846 million.

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GAO: Most agencies still not providing complete data on contractors’ past performance

Although their level of compliance has improved over the last year, most federal agencies still haven’t met established governmentwide targets for providing complete, timely and accurate information on contractors’ past performance, congressional investigators found.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said compliance among the top 10 agencies – based on the number of contracts that each agency needed to evaluate – varied greatly, ranging from 13 percent to 83 percent, as of April.

Only two departments – Defense and Treasury – had compliance rates above 65 percent, said the GAO report released Aug. 7.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy, or OFPP, which has been trying to improve agency compliance on this issue, had wanted all such departments to reach or exceed that 65-percent threshold by the end of fiscal 2013, GAO said.

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Agencies often fail to report contractors’ performance

Most of the top federal government agencies have not complied with regulations requiring them to report contractors’ performance to a central database used by government purchasers, according to a recent report by Congress’s watchdog.

While the agencies showed improvement, only two of the 10 departments surveyed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) met their goal, investigators found, which stymies the government’s ability to know if it is dealing with reputable firms.

“Government agencies rely on contractors to perform a broad array of activities to meet their missions,” the GAO wrote. “Therefore, complete and timely information on contractors’ past performance is critical to ensure the government does business only with companies that deliver quality goods and services on time and within budget.”

The shared database acts like Yelp or Angie’s List — Web sites where consumers rate all sorts of businesses — for government purchasers, who spend billions of dollars annually.

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