Federal agencies falling short in providing accurate, complete federal award data, GAO says

Information about grants and loans found on a federal awards website isn’t as reliable as it should be, said congressional investigators, adding that greater oversight is needed.

The Government Accountability Office said agencies provided incomplete and inaccurate information about such assistance awards — totaling about $619 billion — on USASpending.gov, a publicly accessible website designed to improve transparency and accountability on federal spending.

However, GAO noted in its report released Aug. 1 that agencies largely provided complete information about awarded government contracts.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/federal-agencies-falling-short-providing-accurate-complete-federal-award-da/2014-08-03

Contractors group would restructure White House procurement shop

Citing a “human capital crisis” in a federal workforce beset by retirements and inexperience, a major contractors group on Monday proposed acquisition reforms that would speed up the procurement process, enhance industry-agency collaboration and reorganize the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy to improve workforce training.

The Professional Services Council’s report joins an array of acquisition reform efforts under way in the executive branch and on Capitol Hill in addressing the need to create contracting officers with a more sophisticated grasp of industry trends in services contracting, particularly in information technology.

“We need to fundamentally rethink the workforce, to create a unified vision across government,” said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of the council, which represents 375 member companies. “It will affect everything from how we prosecute wars to how we operate our business systems. The time for incremental or tactical change has long passed.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/07/contractors-group-would-restructure-white-house-procurement-shop/89870/

Read the full report by and recommendations of the Professional Services Council at: The PSC Acquisition and Technology Policy Agenda – 07.28.2014

GAO: $10 billion worth of current federal IT contracts could fail

At least $10 billion in federal technology contracts are currently at risk of failing, according to a new review by the Government Accountability Office — and the number could be larger.

Chief information officers across federal agencies reported that 183 of 759 major IT investments were at medium to high risk of failing before completion, the congressional watchdog found. Other IT projects also may be at risk, but federal agencies appear to be underreporting potential problems or removing or reclassifying IT investments that once were part of a public scorecard.

The GAO’s IT management director, David A. Powner, outlined the findings last week at a hearing of the Senate subcommittee on efficiency and effectiveness of government programs. His report comes as the government continues to recover from the problem-plagued rollout of HealthCare.gov and other high-profile IT miscues.

“Information technology should enable government to better serve the American people. However, despite spending hundreds of billions on IT since 2000, the federal government has experienced failed IT projects and has achieved little of the productivity improvements that private industry has realized from IT,” Powner said in written testimony.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/on-it/gao-10-billion-worth-of-current-federal-it-contracts-could-fail/2014/06/13/1e6ee728-f24f-11e3-9ebc-2ee6f81ed217_story.html

Contractor suspensions and debarments doubled over the last 4 years

The number of contractor suspensions and debarments government-wide have doubled since fiscal 2009 because agencies have developed better management tools and a more active referral process, a May 21 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says.

Agencies can use suspension and debarment to exclude individuals, contractors and grantees from receiving future contracts, grants and other federal assistance due to various types of misconduct.

A previous GAO report found agencies issuing the most procurement related suspensions and debarments shared common characteristics: dedicated staff, detailed policies and procedures, and an active referral process.

Many agencies that previously faltered in rooting out contractor misconduct have taken the lead from those stronger agencies, the latest report says.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/gao-contractor-suspensions-and-debarments-have-doubled-over-last-4-years/2014-05-22

Acquisition reform: Where do you start?

There are today no fewer than six significant acquisition review/reform efforts underway.

They include:

  • A major effort being jointly undertaken by the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.
  • The Defense Department’s  reviews of high-cost/low-value compliance and reporting requirements and soon to be released Better Buying Power 3.0.
  • A “bottom-up” acquisition review directed by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.
  • A continuing effort to develop IT acquisition reform legislation in the Senate
  • The recently launched OMB crowdsourcing effort focused on improving acquisition.

Obviously, there will be a lot of overlap even as each (hopefully) seeks to break some new ground. After all, there shouldn’t be much debate about the need to substantially transform the acquisition landscape.

Keep reading this article at: http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2014/04/29/insights-soloway-reform.aspx

‘Reverse Auctions’ draw scrutiny

It is like an eBay of Washington, a well-appointed and well-connected online marketplace for lucrative government contracts.

Deals for everything from pens to pesticides, from painting offices to performing autopsies — all that and more is up for grabs on FedBid, a fast-growing private company that has positioned itself at the profitable nexus of government and business.

Financed by an investment company connected to Stephen M. Case, of AOL fame, and Ted Leonsis, majority owner of the Washington Wizards, FedBid has assembled a roster of Beltway insiders to promote an unusual approach to how contracts are meted out. Its latest big hire is Joseph Jordan, who was until recently head of procurement policy for the Obama administration.

Through FedBid, government agencies use “reverse auctions” — in which the lowest bid wins, rather than the highest — to decide who is awarded contracts. In theory, the process can save money for taxpayers by encouraging businesses to offer the best possible prices. In practice, it also makes a lot of money for FedBid, which can collect fees from the winning bidders who, in turn, pass those costs to the government.

At issue is whether FedBid encourages competition, as its proponents argue, or simply prompts companies to submit unrealistically low bids to outmaneuver business rivals. Detractors contend that awarding contracts based solely on price means that the government risks ending up with inferior products or services, though this is a risk even when the government does not use reverse auctions. A recent government study, which reviewed reverse auctions at top agencies, found that roughly a third of all FedBid auctions involved a single bidder, meaning that they were closer to no-bid contracts than true auctions.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/07/business/reverse-auctions-draw-scrutiny.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20140407&_r=1 

Cheapest contract isn’t always the best, acquisition officials say

Confusion over “lowest price, technically acceptable” contracts have rendered the Pentagon’s acquisition workforce “brutalized” by critics and the press who mistake shrinking defense budgets for a lack of ambition for innovation, a top acquisition official said Thursday.

Katrina McFarland, assistant Defense secretary for acquisition and past president of the Defense Acquisition University, said “Low-cost, technically acceptable is good when appropriate, but shouldn’t be used to achieve innovation.” Her “very junior-level” acquisition workforce has a learning curve when it comes to taking the next step toward value added in contracts, McFarland told several hundred industry and government executives at a conference titled “Agility, Velocity and Service Excellence” sponsored by the General Services Administration, the Homeland Security Department and the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council.

Seeking industry input on how to prioritize Defense spending on weapons and information technology, McFarland gave a capsule history of how the acquisition workforce in the 1990s was cut by 20 percent to “reap the peace dividend,” and how, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the civilian force was then flush with money and focused more on “pushing product out the door to the warfighter. We weren’t focused on honing business skills or maintaining a good customer-provider relationship,” she said.  “We were a bad customer.”

An injection of money by Congress in 2008 allowed planners beginning in 2010 to assemble 53 experts from agencies and industry and boil down 325 proposed initiatives to 23, which eventually resulted in the Pentagon’s pair of Better Buying Power initiatives. These include rewards and incentives for the workforce, McFarland noted, including the first-ever visits to contractor sites by deputy and undersecretaries to explain “from the horse’s mouth” the distinctions between low-cost contracts, value-added innovations and affordability in the context of the long-term costs of ownership of a system. “Instead of beating the workforce about the ears, it is a guide to help you think,” she said. If the workforce doesn’t understand low-cost technically acceptable, it will fumble around a bit,” she added, telling the business representatives, “if [acquisition] people ask questions and say this is not logical, do not stop them,” for this is how risks are taken that succeed.

Keep reading thgis article at: http://www.govexec.com/management/2014/03/cheapest-contract-isnt-always-best-acquisition-officials-say/80965

OMB and GSA try for agility in IT development, oversight

The Office of Management and Budget plans to revamp its TechStat agency information technology oversight methodology, said Beth Corbet, deputy director for management at OMB.

Cobert said a new TechStat approach will allow federal chief information officers to take an incremental, agile approach rather than focusing on static compliance. She testified during a March 12 hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“As we think about a process like TechStat, you don’t want to be measuring compliance with requirements. You want to be looking early about how we’re looking at needs,” Cobert told the committee.

The idea of more quickly, efficiently and openly delivering federal IT may be catching on at the General Services Administration as well.

GSA unveiled March 12 a new office called 18F, presumably named after the address of GSA headquarters at 1800 F St. NW. The office’s inaugural blog post explains that it is a startup within GSA, which encompasses the Presidential Innovation fellows program, and in-house designers, developers and project managers from within government.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/omb-and-gsa-try-agility-it-development-oversight/2014-03-13 

Strategic sourcing’s impact on small biz needs measurement and monitoring, GAO says

“Strategic sourcing” is a method used by the federal government to improve procurement efficiency by moving away from numerous individual procurements toward a broader aggregate approach.   Since 2005, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has encouraged federal agencies to use strategic sourcing.

Now, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report on how strategic sourcing affects small businesses, including small disadvantaged businesses. The report discusses: (1) how OMB, GSA, and selected agencies have considered small businesses in their strategic sourcing efforts, and (2) the extent to which data and performance measures are available on the inclusion of small businesses in strategic sourcing initiatives.

In its review, GAO found that OMB and the General Services Administration (GSA) have developed guidance on strategic sourcing that stresses the importance of including small businesses.  GAO’s review of documentation for three ongoing government-wide strategic sourcing initiatives showed that GSA considered the inclusion of small businesses in the strategic sourcing process. For example, when developing strategic sourcing initiatives for office supplies and print management, GSA identified the current market share of small businesses with these products and also set aside specific contracts for various categories of small businesses, such as service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. In addition, GAO’s review of agency-wide strategic sourcing initiatives at each of five agencies — Departments of Defense (DOD), specifically Army and the Defense Logistics Agency; Homeland Security (DHS); Housing and Urban Development (HUD); and the Interior and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — showed that the agencies generally considered the inclusion of small businesses.

However, data and performance measures that would provide a more precise understanding of the inclusion of small and disadvantaged businesses in strategic sourcing initiatives are limited.  GAO’s specific findings include:

  • Although GSA has collected baseline data on proposed government-wide initiatives, it has not developed a performance measure to determine changes in small business participation going forward.
  • DHS has collected some data on contracts awarded to small businesses under strategic sourcing initiatives, but it and the other agencies in GAO’s review generally did not have baseline data and performance measures to determine how small businesses were affected by strategic sourcing.  OMB guidance requires agencies to establish baselines for small business participation prior to implementing strategic sourcing and set goals for small business participation.
  • In addition, federal internal control standards state that information is needed to determine whether the agency is achieving its compliance requirements under various laws and regulations.  Without baseline data and performance measures, the effect of strategic sourcing initiatives on small businesses will be difficult to determine.
  • Moreover, OMB has not monitored agencies’ compliance in reporting baseline data and performance measures on the inclusion of small businesses in government-wide and agency-wide strategic sourcing initiatives. OMB required agencies to submit annual reports on the implementation of strategic sourcing from fiscal years 2005 through 2007 and prepare information for acquisition status sessions from fiscal years 2010 through 2012. (No reporting was in place for fiscal years 2008 or 2009.)  However, virtually none of this information included baseline data or measures of the effect of strategic sourcing on small businesses.
  • Federal internal control standards state that effective monitoring should assess the quality of performance over time.  Without effective monitoring, it will be difficult for OMB to help ensure that agencies are tracking the impact of strategic sourcing on small businesses.

As a part of its report, GAO made recommendations to GSA, selected agencies, and OMB to improve data collection and performance measures related to the inclusion of small businesses in strategic sourcing. DOD, DHS, GSA, HUD, and OMB agreed with GAO’s recommendation. Interior partially agreed, suggesting that a more effective approach would be to work with OMB and other agencies to develop common approaches. NASA disagreed, stating it already tracks related spending for the agency. GAO believes its recommendations remain valid as discussed in the report.

To download the complete report, click here.

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 Healthcare.gov 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.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/03/senator-some-data-contractor-past-performance-missing-or-inaccurate/80062