Feds buy back USASpending website after contractor bankruptcy

The government procured its own spending transparency website and the primary data system behind it on the same day last month the contract to manage the systems was set to expire, new documents show.

The move frees up previously contested federal contracting data, which will facilitate increased competition for future contracts, according to outside observers and the General Services Administration.

It’s unclear if the purchase became necessary to keep the site running or if the opportunity arose as a result of Global Computer Enterprises, Inc.’s financial instability, which led to a bankruptcy filing last month.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/big-data/2014/10/feds-buy-back-usaspending-website-after-contractor-bankruptcy/96251/

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

SAM ‘inelegant and cumbersome’ says GSA CIO

The System for Award Management (SAM) is operational but it’s not what the future of acquisition systems should look like, said Sonny Hashmi, chief information officer at the General Services Administration (GSA).

Commonly called “SAM,” the consolidated acquisition system launched in August 2012 to bring together three previously separate systems.

“It is still inelegant and cumbersome. We have done just enough to make it operational,” said Hashmi during an April 11 chat on GitHub.

Shortly after the system went live, SAM ran into a variety of problems that required the back-end security architecture, business process management layer and database schema to be completely reconfigured.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/sam-inelegant-and-cumbersome-says-gsa-cio/2014-04-16

If you encounter a business having trouble getting registered in SAM, be sure to tell them that they should not pay anyone to register their company in SAM.  SAM registration is free!  For details, please visit: http://gtpac.org/sam-gov-registration-is-free-and-help-with-sam-is-free-too 

Study finds limitations in federal grant data

Two academics who set out to analyze government grants to nonprofit organizations found that the databases housing that information continue to resist easy use.

The federal government posts onto USAspending.gov data on awards and sub-awards (grants of federal dollars made by an intermediary such as a state government), but when Jesse Lecy of Georgia State University and Jeremy Thornton of Samford University attempted to study 2012 data, they found significant data limitations.

In a Nov. 25 paper, the two academics say their first hurdle was to identify nonprofits within data sets about recipients of federal money, a task made difficult by the fact that the Federal Assistance Award Data System and the Federal Procurement Data System record entities according to DUNS numbers. The Internal Revenue Service tracks entities according to EIN numbers.

Having access to EINs was important to the researchers, since they wanted to match USAspending.gov data taken from FAADS and FPDS to nonprofit financial information held by the National Center for Charitable Statistics, which uses the publicly available EINs as its database unique identifier. The center classifies charities according to the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities; correlating federal recipients to their NTEE major category would allow the researchers to identify which sectors receive the most federal support.

Nonprofit Federal Award Recipients, by type, in 2013

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/study-finds-limitations-federal-grant-data/2013-12-01 

Fed spending on service contracts drops by $48 billion since 2009

Measured government spending on service contracts fell $48 billion in fiscal  2012 compared to its peak in 2009, a Sept. 3 Center for Strategic and  International Studies report says.

Total services contract obligation dropped to $308 billion from $356 billion  in 2009, the report says. All dollars are inflation adjust for fiscal 2012.

Every agency CSIS looked at reduced its service contracts, except the Health  and Human Services Department, which reported a slight growth.

The Defense Department controlled the majority of federal services contract  obligations, growing from a total of $94.6 billion in 2000 — 57 percent of the  share — to $219.5 billion in 2009–62 percent of the share, the report says.

But from 2009 to 2012 Defense Department service contracts declined 5.2  percent, to $187 billion.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/fed-spending-service-contracts-drops-48-billion-2009-csis-report-says/2013-09-09?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

GAO reports Defense Department barely moving toward a comprehensive service contracts database

Earlier in April, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the second in a series of new, congressionally mandated reports assessing the Department of Defense’s (DOD) efforts to compile an inventory of service contracts. Congress intends for the Pentagon to include these reviews in its yearly budget work and expects “inherently governmental work” currently performed by private contractors to be brought back “in-house.” This review process will help the Pentagon find ways to reduce costs and limit the over-reliance on contractors.

Seventy cents of every contracting dollar spent by the federal government in 2010 was spent by the Pentagon; $371 billion of the $530 billion in federal contract spending was awarded through DOD contracts. Moreover, DOD contracting is continually plagued by stories of $435 hammers, 19 cent washers that cost almost $1 million to ship, and other impossible-to-justify charges.

As a result, Congress has enacted legislation demanding that the Pentagon take steps to improve its acquisition and service contract management systems. In 2008, Congress inserted language into that year’s National Defense Authorization Act requiring the Pentagon to compile and review an annual inventory of service contracts, including the collection of key data, such as:

  • The “function and missions” performed by the contractor
  • The name of the contracting organization
  • The funding source and operating agency paying the contract
  • The number of full-time contractor employees that the contract is paying for

Additionally, Congress required the Pentagon to integrate the information on contractors into its annual strategic workforce plans and budget justification materials.

Congress directed the GAO to assess the progress DOD and its departments were making in cataloging this data over the following three years. The first report in the series, released in January 2011, paints a picture of disorganization and inefficiency.

The Pentagon has no database that officials can use to create a common inventory. In fact, due to the challenges in addressing “the different requirements of the military departments and components,” the Pentagon estimates that it will not be able to field the common database system until 2016, which may be too optimistic since GAO found that “DOD has not established milestones or time frames for the development and implementation of the data system” within its work plan.

Pentagon departments have to rely on the Federal Procurement Data System – Next Generation (FPDS-NG) to compile their inventory reports, but the FPDS-NG dataset does not contain much of the specific data DOD is looking for, including multiple services provided through a single contracting action, services provided through a contract predominantly for supplies, or contractor employment numbers.

Moreover, GAO found that some Navy commands contacted were not even aware that they were supposed to conduct a review, and Navy headquarters did not follow up to ensure that they had conducted the inventories. In fact, the Pentagon was not able to tell Congress that all DOD departments were either collecting or had plans to start collecting the appropriate contractor data, including employment figures, until November 2011. All other federal agencies began collecting this information earlier.

Although not comprehensive, the 2009 inventory was able to identify more than 2,000 instances of contractors performing inherently governmental functions, as determined by Army and Air Force reviews. When GAO performed a random check to see if these jobs had been converted back to civil service jobs, they found private contractors still in eight out of 12 positions. While GAO found that DOD made some improvements between its 2009 and 2010 service contract inventory reports, providing greater detail and higher levels of accuracy, the Pentagon plan for establishing a department-wide service contract database has yet to incorporate appropriate milestones and timeframes or to hold managers responsible for in-sourcing contracts.

— published Apr. 17, 2012 by OMB Watch at http://www.ombwatch.org/node/12046.

OMB’s contracting efficiencies savings overstated, says GAO

Reported savings of an Office of Management and Budget initiative directing agencies cut costs through better contracting practices have been based on inconsistent data sources, says the Government Accountability Office.The effort, announced by President Obama in a March 2009 memo, directed the 24 largest federal agencies to save $40 billion annually in contracting by fiscal years 2011.In a report dated Nov. 15, the GAO says OMB has so far calculated that agencies responded with $15 billion worth of savings in fiscal 2010. It made that calculation using data from the FPDS-NG database rather than the OMB MAX budgeting system, the GAO report says. But, FPDS-NG is meant to track agency contract obligations in general; it provides no insight into the extent which agency actions undertaken as part of the savings initiative contributed to the $15 million figure OMB cited, the report notes.

In MAX, agencies are supposed to indicate specific actions undertaken as part of the effort along with the corresponding savings, but GAO auditors say it’s impossible to tell by the data in the system how much savings actually resulted.

MAX, auditors say, has been riddled with overstated savings and data entry errors. For example, at least three agencies reported in MAX that they collectively realized $1.1 billion worth of savings–but the amounts they reported weren’t savings against a baseline, but how much they actually spent. The figure, in other words, wasn’t an projection of how much more the agency would have spent but for the savings initiative, but how much it actually did spend.

Report authors say many of the data entry errors have been corrected, but some persist–including a $849 million overstatement made by the Health and Human Services Department that remains in MAX as of July 2011.

Agencies also reported billions of dollars’ worth of savings into MAX, savings that GAO says are questionable–at least, questionable based on the assumption that the point of the effort is to reduce contracting inefficiencies.

For example, NASA reported into MAX savings of $697 million–an amount that was 95 percent of its total reported fiscal 2010 savings. The cause of those savings was the retirement of the Space Shuttle, “which was even planned since January 2004 and was not the result of this initiative,” GAO auditors note.

The State Department reported $732 million of fiscal 2010 savings. (I arrived at that figure by comparing what it spent that year on contractor security personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan against what it says it would have cost to replace those contractors with federal workers.) But, State didn’t have the option of replacing all contractors with civil servants, the GAO says. State officials have told GAO officials that it would take at least 3 years to hire and train the thousands of security personnel that would be necessary to replace contractors.

State’s savings resulted from a purely “hypothetical scenario,” report authors say.

For more information, you can download the report, GAO-12-57 (.pdf)

— by David Perera, Fierce Government IT, Nov. 15, 2011 at http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/ombs-contracting-efficiencies-savings-overstated-says-gao/2011-11-15?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal.

OFPP, SBA team up on procurement data

Agencies may soon have a smoother and faster process to deal with small-business contracting data. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Small Business Administration said Nov. 14 in a memo that they are aligning operations.

Each year, SBA sends individual reports to agencies on anomalies related to small-business contracting awards. The reports help officials answer questions about data before SBA releases its small-business contracting scorecards. Then agencies turn in reports to OFPP and the General Services Administration, certifying that their procurement data is accurate and complete.

This fiscal year, OFPP and SBA will begin integrating the two processes. Officials said integrating the small-business data quality reviews will reduce the acquisition workforce’s work and improve acquisition planning. They also said the new alignment will improve accuracy of the data.

For the fiscal 2011 data reviews, SBA will provide agencies with anomaly reports. These reports will be focused on high-risk areas though.

OFPP and SBA want something in return for their changes.

“We ask that you increase the attention given to small-business data quality as part of your ongoing data validation efforts,” they wrote in the memo.

Officials expect agencies to incorporate a stronger focus on small-business data.

To help with that, GSA is developing standard anomaly reports available in the Federal Procurement Data System. These reports use the protocols currently available to agencies. They will be easier to use with a standard form.

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week.  This article appeared Nov. 18, 2011 at http://fcw.com/articles/2011/11/18/ofpp-sba-small-business-procurement-data.aspx.

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 https://www.fbo.gov/?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=4cfa1aa7d67a29f5aeb3146f1cbf4758&tab=core&_cview=0.]

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 – http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/turco-sam-deployment-likely-be-delayed-gsa-might-replace-duns/2011-10-22?utm_medium=nl&utm_source=internal

Fixed price contract usage down, says OFPP

Governmentwide usage of fixed price contracts decreased slightly as a percentage of total contractor spending during the last fiscal year when compared to adjusted figures from the year before, says a July 8 report from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

Obama administration policy has been to encourage agency use of fixed-price contracts on the grounds that they offer less risk to the government. A July 29, 2009 memo (.pdf) from then-Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag called on agencies to reduce by 10 percent in fiscal 2010 spending on noncompetitive, cost-reimbursement, and time-and-materials/labor-hour contracts.

As a percentage of total spending, however, federal use of various contract types in fiscal 2010 changed little from the previous year, although usage of fixed price contract decreased by a percentage point.

Agency use of cost-reimbursement contracts–under which contractors are reimbursed for costs and given a “fee,” which is what the government calls “profit”–also increased by a percentage point, according to report figures.

Because total obligations to federal contractors decreased in fiscal 2010 relative to the previous year, the absolute number of cost type obligations actually declined slightly–by $900 million, to $162.23 billion, according to OFPP adjusted fiscal 2009 figures. OFPP adjusted fiscal 2009 figures to account for a change in reporting methodology in the Federal Procurement Data System, which stopped accepting in fiscal 2010 reports of “combination” contracts, which government officials have said led to an underreporting of cost-type contracts.

Nonetheless, Gordon acknowledges in the report that an increase of some sort did occur–and, that it was driven at least in part by administration efforts to limit agency use of time-and-materials/labor-hour contracts, under which contractors charge the government for costs (“materials”) and an hourly rate (“time”). Unlike cost type contracts, company profit is embedded into the hourly rates companies charge. (Labor hour contracts are time-and-material contracts minus the materials.)

“Some increase in spending through cost-reimbursement contracting was expected as agencies moved away from T&M/LH contracting in situations where the level of uncertainty regarding the agency’s requirements prevented the agency from negotiating a fixed price,” Gordon states.

In the report, Gordon points to an interim rule the Federal Acquisition Regulation Secretariat published March 16 that added to the FAR additional guidance on when cost type contracts may be used. Among the changes, which were effective immediately, is a call for contracting officers to consider making portions of contract fixed price even when not all of a contract can be fixed price (FAR 16.104(e)).

The interim rule also limits the use of cost type contracts to when “adequate government resources are available to award and manage” the contract (FAR 16.301-3(a)(4)).

— by David Perera, Fierce Government – July ‎12, ‎2011 at http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/fixed-price-contract-usage-down-says-ofpp/2011-07-12?utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss 

For more:
download the OFPP report (.pdf)
download the interim rule on cost type contracts