Vendors doing business with IRS owe nearly $600M in back taxes

Some 1,168 businesses that sell products and services to the Internal Revenue Service owe a combined $589 million in delinquent taxes, auditors found.

Federal law — as updated in the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act — forbids agencies from signing contracts with companies with unpaid federal tax liabilities, but the IRS’ system of controls, while effective much of the time, is not fool-proof, according to the report released Wednesday by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

“When the IRS conducts business with vendors that do not comply with federal tax laws, it conveys a contradictory message in relation to its mission to ensure compliance with the tax laws,” said J. Russell George, Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.

The IRS in the past has resisted TIGTA’s recommendation that it conduct an annual check on contractor tax records. And though the agency’s use of its Master Vendor File is generally effective, auditors recently found that the IRS has not checked the General Services Administration’s Excluded Parties List System. The agency improperly awarded four new contracts or exercised additional option years on existing contracts, valued at $2.6 million, to three vendors that were suspended from doing business with the government, the auditors found.

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GSA appoints a new duo to run SAM

After a false start on the System for Award Management in August, General Services Administration officials have shifted the management of SAM to two of the agency’s top executives, a spokeswoman said Oct. 22.

Mary Davie, acting Federal Acquisition Service commissioner, and Casey Coleman, GSA’s CIO, are now responsible to getting SAM working, said Jackeline Stewart, deputy press secretary at GSA.

“GSA will ensure that the short-term fixes and the long-term vision of creating a common acquisition platform across government rest squarely with the leadership of our acquisitions and technical experts,” Stewart said.

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DoD temporarily alters vendor registration rule due to SAM’s launch shortcomings

In order to avoid delays in “the timely processing of awards,” the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has ordered the temporary suspension of rules requiring vendor registration in the System for Award Management (SAM).

SAM replaced Central Contractor Registration (CCR), the government’s long-standing vendor database.  SAM was launched during the last weekend in July 2012 when CCR vendor data was migrated to the new system.

SAM’s late July implementation included not only CCR but Federal Agency Registration (FedReg), the Online Representation and Certification Application (ORCA), and the Excluded Parties List System (EPLS) as well.  “Performance issues” involving the new SAM database prompted DoD’s action to suspend for “a brief period” the requirement that vendors be registered in SAM before being eligible for a contract award.

Since SAM’s launch there have been widespread reports and complaints from vendors and contracting officers alike that they cannot access vendor records or are experiencing slow performance within the on-line system.  The General Services Administration (GSA) is responsible for SAM.  GSA contracted with IBM to manage the design and implementation of SAM.

In the August 21, 2012 order to temporarily suspend SAM registration requirements, DoD noted that the action would provide “a brief period of time for achieving resolution of the remaining [performance] issues.”

DoD notes that “GSA has been taking aggressive action to resolve these issues promptly.”   Earlier news reports indicated that GSA issued IBM a “letter of concern” on Aug. 7.  In the official notice, GSA told IBM to develop a plan of action and milestones for how they will make SAM work more smoothly.  GSA hired IBM under an eight-year, $74.4 million contract in 2010.

DoD’s order was issued in the form of a “class deviation” which allows the department to suspend Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and Defense FAR Supplement (DFARS) requirements pertaining to vendor registration  and annual representations and certifications.

In its order DoD notes that contractors are still required to be registered in SAM prior to submitting invoices.

Before the DoD order, all contractors were required to be registered in SAM, and all contracting officers were required to check SAM before making a contract award.

Until SAM is functional, DoD’s contracting officials are directed to obtain paper or electronic copies of vendors’ representations and certifications in lieu of accessing this documentation via that portion of SAM that used to be the stand-alone ORCA system.

The EPLS migration to SAM has been reversed, thus restoring that website as a site operating on its own.  Because of this action, contracting officers once again have the ability to conduct pre-award checks in EPLS to ensure prospective contractors are not on the list of entities excluded from federal contracts.

DoD’s class deviation remains in effect for an indefinite period of time until rescinded.

The SAM User Guide can be downloaded at:

© 2012 The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech.  All Rights Reserved.  Permission to reprint this article is hereby granted with the stipulations that the article is attributed to The Contracting Education Academy at Georgia Tech and that the following URL is given:

August 24, 2012 – 5:33 am EST


Suspension and debarment often misunderstood, contractors told

Though viewed by industry as a punishment, the government’s suspension and debarment procedure for errant contractors is designed to be an “instantaneous” way to protect taxpayers from irresponsible spending, a panel of procurement officials agreed on Thursday. They parted company, however, on whether the current rules afford sufficient due process to affected companies.

Speaking at the first Acquisition Excellence conference staged jointly by the General Services Administration and the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council, current and former procurement officials expressed concern that suspension and debarment has become “a hot topic” in Congress. Government Executive was one of four media partners for the conference.

It’s being used to go after “bad actors in all sorts of endeavors, from failure to pay taxes to fraud convictions,” said William Woods, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, which in October 2011 published a study comparing frequency of suspensions and departments at 10 agencies. Most of the contractors tagged as suspended on GSA’s Excluded Parties List System are there for reasons unrelated to federal contracting such as drug trafficking or violations of export controls, he said.

Seven of the fiscal 2012 appropriations bills contained language requiring use of suspensions and debarments, added Rob Burton, a top White House procurement administrator during the George W. Bush administration and now a partner at Venable LLP. But the purpose of suspension and debarment is “not complicated,” said Dan Gordon, former administrator of procurement policy for the Obama White House who is now associate dean for government contracts law at The George Washington University Law School. “The purpose is to protect the taxpayers, not to replace or supplement the Justice Department’s administration of justice — they take care of the bad guys,” he said. Gordon warned that many misread the GAO report to imply that the more an agency suspends and debars, the better, as if “what this country needs is to hang more contractors high from a tree.”

What the process requires is “a matter of checking, of being careful,” Gordon said. “The system works pretty well,” and doesn’t require new legislation or regulation. The interagency committee on suspension and debarment can help by sharing best practices among specialized staff at agencies, he added.

Burton disagreed, calling the current regulations “flawed in a fundamental way because they allow for no due process.” He described how his private sector clients can suddenly receive a letter informing them they can’t do business with the federal government and “they get no opportunity to present their own information or defend themselves.” He added the current rules “would not pass constitutional muster.”

Joseph Neurauter, GSA’s top suspension and debarment official, stressed that the tool is not intended as punishment for contractors, though he acknowledged it can jeopardize an individual’s job. “It’s about minimizing risk for the federal government,” which is why the suspension is “instantaneous,” he said. His job is to view the problem from the point of view of agency acquisitions teams, Neurauter added. But he does regularly send letters to individuals who are suspended and invite them to meet informally and “show cause” as to why they should regain eligibility for government contracts.

Asked about new legislation that would impose suspension and debarment consideration for war zone contractors involved in human trafficking, Woods said “that’s a policy call for Congress.” Gordon said he is “always concerned when Congress sets up an automatic system of suspension and debarment because it undercuts the process by precluding discretion by officials looking at the full picture.”

At other sessions of the all-day conference that assembled several hundred federal employees and contractors at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, GSA chief Martha Johnson opened proceedings by stressing the value of sustainability as a key to reframing procurement in an age of limited budgets. A related session was titled, Sustainable Acquisition: Is It a Dream or Is It Real?

At lunch, Lesley Field, acting White House administrator for federal procurement policy, and colleagues presented achievement awards to federal contracting professionals in categories of buying smarter, effective vendor communication and strategic sourcing.

In a nod to the challenge of preparing the next generation of acquisition officers, Steve Ressler, founder of the social networking tool GovLoop, moderated a panel of young federal contract specialists from several agencies who are in the Rising Acquisition Professionals program. It was set up in 2010 by the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Federal Acquisition Institute.

Other sessions focused on how tight budgets are affecting ongoing relationships among agency contracting officers, program managers and industry. Speakers stressed the importance of engagement and dialogue early in the acquisition process, and many complained that too many agency staff members are fearful of tapping the expertise of contractors for fear of violating the Federal Acquisition Regulation and favoring one potential bidder over others, possibly provoking a bid protest.

“Government and industry too often talk past each other on early engagement,” said Mark Day, director of the Office of Strategic Programs at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service. “Government asks the wrong questions, asking about prices before we know the cost drives, and then they write requirements that drive costs up.” Contractors, in turn, too often target the title not the role, Day added, and he recommended they talk to the official actually writing the requirements. “Early engagement is a mystery to the government side, and they’re scared of it,” Day said. “But it is an opportunity to find the sweet spot between what the government needs, what the contractor can provide and what the FAR allows.”

— by Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, Mar. 30, 2012 at

SAM deployment likely to be delayed; GSA might replace DUNS

A General Services Administration (GSA) effort to consolidate federal online acquisition systems will likely receive no development money during the current fiscal year, causing GSA officials to anticipate a delay in the project.

However, GSA officials are going forward with a planned sources sought notice, to be released shortly, seeking private sector input on the viability of replacing mandatory federal vendor acquirement of a DUNS number from Dun & Bradstreet with a government-generated unique identifier. [Editor’s Note: The sources sought was published on Oct. 27, 2011, with response deadline of Nov. 21, 2011.  Details on the sources sought may be viewed at]

If the government does replace DUNS with its own unique identifier system for vendors, the transition would likely be tied to the third phase of the online acquisition system consolidation effort, said Kathleen Turco, head of GSA’s office of governmentwide policy, during an Oct. 21 interview.

The integration effort seeks to consolidate 9 currently separate systems into one, to be known as the System for Award Management, or SAM. IBM received a $74.4 million contract in 2010 to develop the SAM architecture; part of the consolidation effort includes unifying the currently disparate databases into a single, unified one.

Because GSA received $7 million in development funds during fiscal 2011, which ended on Sept. 30, it will be able to proceed with the first phase of the consolidation, which will tie together Central Contractor Registration, Online Representations and Certifications Application and the Excluded Parties List System.

Starting in May, front-end users will find that they have to log onto SAM only once to access the functionalities of all three systems, Turco said.

However, a request for $15 million in development, modernization and enhancement money for the current fiscal year has bumped up against spending constraints; the Senate Appropriations Committee markup of GSA’s fiscal 2012 spending bill denied the request in total. The House version would appropriate about $3 million in DME money for the project, Turco said. Congress has yet to pass any fiscal 2012 appropriations bill; the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution that expires on midnight of Nov. 18.

As a result of the House and Senate marks, Turco said GSA will likely postpone roll out of phase 2, under which GSA plans to consolidate FedBizOps, the Electronic Subcontracting Reporting System, and the Assistance Program Catalog. Originally, GSA had planned to unveil that phase in the spring of 2013; if GSA receives sufficient funding for fiscal 2013, it would be able to complete that phase in spring 2014, Turco said.

The third phase would consolidate FPDS , Wage Determinations Online and the Past Performance Information Retrieval System. The earliest phase 3 could now be completed–it was originally planned for spring 2014–is now spring 2015, Turco said.

It’s in conjunction with phase 3 that GSA would likely also transition from using DUNS as a unique vendor identifier to a government-generated number, if GSA decides to do so, Turco added.

Vendors wishing to do business with the government must receive a unique identifier–in some cases, more than one, depending on the number of physical locations and legal divisions a company has–and GSA has long contracted with Dun & Bradstreet for government vendors to receive Data Universal Numbering System identifier for free.

But, the government pays Dun & Bradstreet $18 million a year for the service, making it the single most expensive element of the Integrated Acquisition Environment, the name GSA gives to 9 systems set for consolidation into SAM.

“We’ve had a lot of push on us from the Hill and many vendors have said to us ‘Why is it only Dun and Bradstreet?'” Turco said.

However, replacing DUNS would be no easy task, she acknowledged, since DUNS are used in financial systems to pay vendors and have become deeply integrated into IAE feeder systems.

— by David Perera, Fierce Government IT, Oct. 24, 2011 –