IRS severing ties with firm amid $500 million in questionable contracts

The Internal Revenue Service said Wednesday it is moving to cut ties with a  favored software vendor after learning that one of the agency’s top procurement  officials had improper contact with the firm’s owner, one of a handful of  troubling revelations Congressional investigators have uncovered about the  company.

The firm in question, Strong Castle, Inc., is at the center of separate  investigations by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration and the  House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Both have been probing  allegations that the IRS’ deputy director for IT acquisition, Greg Roseman, gave  preferential treatment and inside information to Strong Castle’s owner, who the  committee called a longtime friend of Roseman.

Witnesses also claimed Strong Castle engaged in fraud to win its contracts, though  evidence the investigations have publicly produced to date suggest the company’s  activities fell within at least the letter of the law, if not its intent.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/?nid=534&sid=3372006&pid=0&page=1

Alaska native firm played role in failed medical review board software project

Work on a botched program to develop software for the Defense Medical Examination Review Board was performed by an Alaska native company, said Steven Davis, a spokesman for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command. The command’s Atlantic center contracted with software engineering firm Barling Bay LLC to support development of a medical records system that has come under fire for failing so severely that responsibility for the work was transferred to the General Services Administration.

Barling Bay is a subsidiary of Three Saints LLC, a holding company headquartered in Anchorage. Under federal law, Alaska native firms receive preferential treatment in government contracts.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., chairwoman of the contracting oversight panel for the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, charged in a Dec. 7 letter to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert that SPAWAR’s management of the contract for service academy exams was “so inadequate that the General Services Administration had to assume responsibility.” The review board determines the medical qualification of more than 50,000 applicants annually for appointment to a U.S. service academy, the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the Reserve Officer Training Corps.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/health/2012/12/alaska-native-firm-played-role-failed-medical-review-board-software-project/60280/?oref=govexec_today_nl 

Congress could turn heat up on small-biz goals

Under a new bill, a department that misses a set goal to contract with small businesses could lose 10 percent of its budget as a penalty.

Rep. Bill Owens (D-N.Y.) introduced the Small Business Growth and Federal Accountability Act (H.R. 3779) Jan. 18, saying the government’s annual 23-percent small-business contracting goal is regularly ignored by agencies.

He said his bill would “ensure that Washington lives up to its promise to foster an environment of success for small businesses.”

Owens, a member of the Small Business Committee, said federal agencies typically fail to meet their small-business contracting goals and they currently face no penalties for the shortfalls.

Under his bill, if an agency misses the set small-business contracting goal, their budget would decrease by 10 percent in the following fiscal year, with that percentage of funds going to pay down national debt.

“It is critical that federal agencies be held accountable,” Owens said.

The bill also would offer agencies more authority to give “preference” to small companies when awarding contracts. The term “preference” is not defined in the bill.

The bill has been sent to the Small Business Committee for consideration.

It is true that the government struggles to meet its annual 23-percent contracting goal. In the most recent scorecard from the Small Business Administration, the government reached 22.7 percent in fiscal 2010.

That year, agencies awarded a total of nearly $100 billion in contracts to small businesses. However, it was an increase in prime contract dollars going to small businesses for the second year following four years of decline.

SBA gave the government a B on the scorecard for its efforts in contracting with specific types of small businesses, such as those owned by a service-disabled veteran or located in an economically depressed area.

Owens’ bill could have several repercussions though.

In a post on the Government Contracts Legal Forum blog, Tiffany Wynn, an associate at the Crowell and Moring law firm, said agencies may decide to reduce their contracting goals to avoid the 10-percent penalty.

As a result of the bill, officials would have to weigh the penalties for missing the small-business goal against awarding a contract to a large company if the agency could save money.

Wynn also questioned whether this legislation would lead to penalties on companies that don’t meet their own annual small business subcontracting goals.

About the Author: Matthew Weigelt is a senior writer covering acquisition and procurement for Federal Computer Week. This article appeared Jan. 25, 2012 at http://washingtontechnology.com/articles/2012/01/25/small-business-goal-reduced-budget-penalty.aspx?s=wtdaily_260112.

Fraud continues in small business preference programs

Contractor fraud in small business set-aside programs is difficult to detect and prove, but its annual costs to government are significant in dollars and damage to legitimate business that deserve the work, two federal watchdogs told a House panel Thursday.

In fulfilling the Obama administration’s goal of giving 23 percent of prime federal contracts to small business, agencies need to do better at making a public example of “bad actors” and at vetting contractors that misrepresent their qualifications for minority advantages through self-certification, according to Peggy Gustafson, inspector general for the Small Business Administration, and Brian Miller, IG for the General Services Administration.

They spoke at a hearing of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Investigations, Oversight and Regulations called by Chairman Mike Coffman, R-Colo., who sought to learn why much contractor fraud goes unpunished and unprosecuted.

“Just as we all benefit from small business prime contracting, we all suffer when fraud rears its ugly head,” Coffman said. “Legitimate small businesses lose the ability to perform when contracts go to firms that do not qualify for, or who are not following the rules associated with, the small business contracting program. The government suffers from this fraud because bad actors give all small businesses a bad name, so contacting officers are more reluctant to use the small business programs, which in turn results in less competition and a less vibrant industrial base.”

The set-aside programs consist chiefly of preferences for section 8(a) business development, Historically Underutilized Business Zones, women-owned businesses and the service-disabled veteran-owned program. Both inspectors general testified that their own agencies had fallen victim to fraud. SBA and the HUBZone certification program played a role in the sensational case exposed with the arrests earlier this month involving $20 million in fraud allegedly committed by contractors and two employees of the Army Corps of Engineers, Gustafson noted.

Miller described a recent $6 million contract awarded to a company that claimed to be run by a disabled veteran whose documents said he served three tours of duty during the Vietnam War and received medals and citations. It turned out, Miller said, he was a mechanical engineer serving stateside in the National Guard.

“It’s difficult to prove a monetary loss to the government because it did receive the goods and services,” Miller said. “But the real loss is to program integrity, to the legitimate small businesses that didn’t get the contract.” He added that fraudulent self-certification is difficult to detect and agencies rely on such information in the majority of the preference contract awards because their resources are limited.

“Strong penalties are needed to deter” the fraud, he said. “The tougher it is to detect, the tougher penalties must be,” though the rules should avoid punishing innocent companies simply because of a clerical error, he said.

Gustafson said each type of set-aside has its own level of vetting and the Section 8 program is the hardest for contractors to qualify for. She agreed that agencies could deter more fraud by publicizing their reviews of such programs, which in one instance prompted “contractors to drop out in droves.” It is acknowledged by all IGs, she added, “that the federal government doesn’t use suspension and debarment enough — that hits contractors in the pocketbook.”

Miller noted that GSA has an interactive map on its website providing other agencies with links to state databases reporting contractors that have been suspended or debarred.

Coffman asked whether agencies should take more responsibility for policing fraud. “It’s hard to draw simple rules,” Gustafson said. “Overburdened” agencies focused on awarding contracts are “not expected to know all the ins and outs” of the set-aside programs. Also, “the more difficult the rules are to administer, the harder it is to present the case to a jury,” she said.

But the issue “needs more discussion in the executive branch and guidance from Congress since it’s not always clear who’s minding the store,” she said. “If the programs don’t have integrity, we might as well throw them open to open competition.”

– by Charles S. Clark - Government Executive – October 27, 2011 – http://www.govexec.com/story_page.cfm?articleid=49156&dcn=e_gvet