The federal outsourcing boom and why it’s failing Americans

Two of the biggest news events of the past year have been the leaks about top-secret snooping by the NSA and the disastrous rollout of Obamacare. But in an important way, they are both manifestations of a story that has been unfolding for decades — that of a federal government that has outsourced too much of what it does to private contractors while allowing the quality of its own workforce to atrophy.

Lots of Americans were disturbed to learn from Edward Snowden that the government is keeping track of their every phone call and text message. But they might have also wondered why a 30-year-old government contractor in Honolulu, with security clearance that was approved by another private contractor, had routine access to some of the government’s most sensitive secrets. Even worse, two years after Pfc. Bradley Manning did the same thing, Snowden managed to download millions of pages of documents from a computer system designed and managed by private contractors without setting off a single alarm. The whole affair was an embarrassment to Washington’s government contracting sector.

So, too, the fiasco with HealthCare.gov, which despite the bleating of Republicans has almost nothing to do with the wisdom of the new health-care law and everything to do with the way the government and its outside contractors set about implementing it. While several of the contractors failed to perform as promised, in hindsight it appears the government also made a crucial mistake in deciding to rely on the IT staff at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to manage the contractors and oversee the final integration of the new system. Free-market ideologues will reflexively see in this failure further evidence of the inherent inferiority of public-sector workers. In truth, it is evidence of how outdated civil service rules and ill-conceived caps on the size and pay of the federal workforce have eroded the government’s ability to perform even essential government tasks.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/the-federal-outsourcing-boom-and-why-its-failing-americans/2014/01/31/21d03c40-8914-11e3-833c-33098f9e5267_story.html

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.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/01/top-contractor-background-checks-charged-fraud/77453/?oref=govexec_today_nl

Defense intel agency eyes TurboTax-type software to run acquisitions

The Defense Intelligence Agency would like to find simple, TurboTax-like software to provide “cradle to grave acquisition support.”

The Virginia Contracting Activity, which runs DIA procurements, said it wanted a knowledge-based system modeled on TurboTax to help manage acquisitions, according to a notice posted Thursday to the Federal Business Opportunities contracting website.

Eventually the software should support the entire intelligence community — including the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office and the FBI — “to consolidate our limited and dwindling resources with the added benefit of improving support to all our supported customers,” DIA said.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/defense/2013/07/defense-intel-agency-eyes-turbotax-type-software-run-acquisitions/65909/ 

UPDATE – July 9, 2013 – The Defense Intelligence Agency withdrew this solicitation with the following notice posted on FBO on July 8, 2013: “This notice is cancelled in its entirety.”  See https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&tab=core&id=32d3f22b76f482d3e19c7adf7cb70700&_cview=0 

 

 

NSA logistics chief comments on the acquisition process and overcoming challenges

Note: ExecutiveGov recently spoke with Dr. Harvey Davis, director for installations and logistics at the National Security Agency.  Dr. Davis has held a variety of roles over his 30 years of service to the agency, where his responsibilities have included leading recruitment and overseeing billions of dollars in infrastructure construction.  This article is the third in a series.

ExecutiveGov: What’s the personal value that you’ve taken from your different roles? What’s given you a sense of appreciation for your job?

Dr. Davis: From the growth perspective, one of the things that I did during my career is to never say no to a job that was offered to me. And the jobs that are most attractive to me are the jobs that nobody wants. Which means that you can go in there and you can craft it and you can do the things that you need to do.

As I went through my career, the recruitment, the HR work, the contracts work, and the facilities and logistics work, they all had in common that there were areas that needed to be addressed from a problematic perspective and smoothed out. One of the great things about this agency is this agency is a city. A municipality requires every skill under the sun, and you can move and change focus. If I was in the private sector, I probably couldn’t move from being an HR director to somebody who was in charge of construction across the country and managing billions of dollars of construction.

From a psychological perspective, some of the construction that we’ve done across the country, to see it go from the back of a napkin, where we first thought about it, into brick and mortar, into big buildings, helps you get a psychological sense of achievement. It’s a more tangible sense of achievement than you would have gotten otherwise.

Keep reading this interview at: http://www.executivegov.com/2013/04/dr-harvey-davis-on-his-nsa-career-the-acquisition-process-and-overcoming-challenges/

 

 

Resource centers boost competition for secret contracts

Restricted websites similar to the Federal Business Opportunities site are boosting competition for sensitive national security procurements, showing that competition is possible in the mysterious world, according to a report.

The National Reconnaissance Office hosts the Acquisition Research Center, which was developed for intelligence community procurements. It limits potential contractors to about 1,200 registered firms that are already cleared to work in a secure environment and have a workforce with security clearances.

“An NRO senior procurement official described this system as a proprietary classified version of FedBizOpps,” the Government Accountability Office wrote in a report released Jan. 13, 2012. GAO was reviewing competition for Defense Department contracts for national security needs.

Along with NRO, the National Security Agency has a business registry database. It provides industry with a central place for acquisition information. NSA officials use it for market research as a way to distribute documents to partners and other companies. All companies that are interested in doing business with NSA must be registered in the system. As of October 2010, the database included about 9,300 companies, GAO reported.

The Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, both of which are within the Defense Department, have made arrangements to use the systems.

GAO compared their contracts awarded under an acquisition rule allowing particular agencies to exempt certain national security contracts from a full-and-open competition. Because of the acquisition centers, NSA and NRO showed higher levels of competition compared to the DOD military departments, which don’t use the databases.

Annually, for NRO and NSA, competition for contracts ranged from 27 percent to 70 percent of total spending, GAO wrote, based on the information the agencies provided.

On the other hand, GAO found much less competition after analyzing procurement data on about 11,300 DOD national security contracts from fiscal 2007 through fiscal 2010, which equaled $2 billion. Military departments received more than one bid on only 16 percent of all contracts and task orders purchased under a national security exemption rule.

Defense officials noted three obstacles for their low percentage of competition.

  • Few contractors with clearances.
  • Constraints on soliciting new vendors.
  • Few tools to do market research.

In response to the report, DOD officials said they would assess the tools that the intelligence community has to do market research and consider giving defense agencies access to the databases.

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week. This article apperaed on Jan. 17, 2012 at http://fcw.com/articles/2012/01/17/national-security-acquisition-resource-center.aspx.