Reverse auctioneer FedBid slammed by VA inspector general

Executives at a popular federal reverse auction contractor have come under fire for taking “significant measures to disrupt and deprive” the Department of Veterans Affairs’ ability “to transact official business honestly and impartially, free from improper and undue influence.” The company and its executives could now face potential suspension or debarment from federal contracting.

In a damning 82-page report released Monday, the VA’s inspector general detailed an orchestrated campaign by FedBid executives to “assassinate” the character of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Acquisition and Logistics Jan Frye after he suspended the use of reverse auctions throughout the agency in 2012.  Investigators also found that Susan Taylor, VA’s deputy chief procurement officer at the Veterans Health Administration, abused her position and “improperly acted as an agent of FedBid in matters before the government.”

What started as an investigation into Taylor’s alleged interference with a review of the FedBid contract soon led the IG to discover Taylor had been giving FedBid preferential treatment, going so far as to disclose proprietary information and pressure contracting staff to award a task order for reverse auction services to FedBid. Although the IG referred the matter to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution, DOJ did not press charges and recommended VA take administrative actions.

Keep reading this article at: http://fedscoop.com/reverse-auctioneer-fedbid-censured-va-inspector-general-report/

Senior VA official pressured employees to award FedBid contracts

A Veteran’s Health Administration procurement executive pressured employees and worked the acquisition system to award FedBid contracts for reverse-auctions, a Sept. 26 Veteran’s Affairs Department inspector general report says.

The report says Susan Taylor, VHA’s deputy chief procurement officer, in 2010 pressured staff repeatedly in emails to speed up the acquisition process and pick FedBid – a Vienna, Va. based reverse auction vendor – for the reverse auction contracts.

The report says Taylor, “improperly disclosed non-public VA information to unauthorized persons, misused her position and VA resources for private gain, and engaged in a prohibited personnel practice when she recommended that a subordinate senior executive service employee be removed from SES during her probation period.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/va-ig-senior-official-pressured-employees-award-fedbid-contracts/2014-09-30

VA forming cadre of specially-trained acquisition workers

The Veterans Affairs Department is recognizing and rewarding the success of its acquisition workers.

VA is professionalizing the acquisition workforce in a way comparable only to the Defense Department.

“We are establishing a professional acquisition corps in order to provide the benefits to VA by having a very specified cadre of highly-trained contracting officers and program managers who have a demonstrated history of high performance, and are qualified to lead VA’s most critical and high visibility programs and procurements,” said Ford Heard, VA’s associate deputy assistant secretary for Procurement Policy, Systems and Oversight and deputy senior procurement executive, during an interview on Federal News Radio’s In- Depth with Francis Rose.

“From a VA perspective, we are basically a soup to nuts organization as far as what is being procured in VA.  Not only is it IT.  Not only is it high professional quality healthcare services, but all the facility management requirements that anyone of our healthcare facilities would utilize. So, what we are actually doing is building this acquisition corps to really benefit veterans in the service we offer, and the opportunities for our employees to advance and receive training that they would not normally get under past circumstances.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/538/3654616/VA-forming-cadre-of-specially-trained-acquisition-workers 

7 agencies where contract spending sped up despite the sequester

Overall, the federal government’s spending on contracts was down 11 percent last year, Bloomberg reported April 22, 2014.

The sequester, other budget cuts, and the drawdown in Iraq and Afghanistan took a toll on spending at 12 of 19 major agencies, with Defense Department spending down nearly 15 percent  over fiscal 2012 and business with the U.S. Agency for International Development down 17 percent.

But seven departments managed to buck the general downward trend. They are:

1)      Homeland Security (2.1 percent increase over fiscal 2012)

2)      Health and Human Services (4.6 percent increase)

3)      Veterans Affairs (5.3 percent increase)

4)      Justice (7 percent increase)

5)      Housing and Urban Development (9.5 percent increase)

6)      Treasury (16.4 percent increase)

7)      Education (27 percent increase)

This article may be found at:  http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2014/04/7-agencies-where-contract-spending-sped-despite-sequester/82987

Agencies setting off into the next data frontier — procurement

Agencies are starting to grasp the real value of procurement data. Several agencies are asking the General Services Administration, NASA and others for more details on what they buy, how they buy it and how they could make better decisions.

NASA, for example, is working closely with the Veterans Affairs Department to provide them with an assortment of data points around energy efficiency, such as how VA’s IT products are rated for Energy Star or E-Peat. NASA also plans to provide VA with information about how their purchases meet the Trade Agreements Act and about their buying habits based on product classifications.

Joanne Woytek, the program manager for NASA SEWP governmentwide acquisition contract, said the fact that VA and other agencies are asking for and receiving this type of data is a sign of maturity for both the GWAC providers and the agencies in understanding what’s available and why the data matters.

“I’ve seen this happening more with our contracts and SEWP V. A lot of what we are putting into that is to make it a more mature model. We can’t just say, ‘we can do that,’ we will actually demonstrate the things we can do,” she said at the 2014 Acquisition Excellence conference in Washington Thursday sponsored by GSA, the Homeland Security Department and ACT-IAC. “We will be able to show agencies what they are buying. We’re going to be able to provide them with more information. We always said we could do that, but we actually are going to start doing that. I think that’s going to have a bigger effect on agencies who no longer will say ‘I don’t want to use you because I’m not sure you can give me that information. I’m not sure you can control what we’re purchasing.’ We can do that for them and we’ll actually start showing that. So I see us having a better impact on people now that we’ve gotten to this point.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federalnewsradio.com/?nid=533&sid=3587330&pid=0&page=1 

Major departments seek continuous monitoring acquisition independence from DHS

Some federal agencies are choosing to buy continuous monitoring tools independently of the Homeland Security Department’s Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation Program despite forfeiting DHS procurement money for those tools when doing so.

Those agencies have sought and received a “delegation of procurement authority” from the CDM program. That means they are able to use the blanket purchase agreements for security tools set up by GSA for the CDM program. But, if they exercise the delegation by buying tools themselves rather than through program office, they do it “with their own money,” said Jim Piché, a GSA acquisition manager newly appointed to overseeing the blanket purchase agreements.

A GSA spokeswoman said the agency won’t release a list of the agencies that received a delegation.Piché spoke Wednesday during a Washington, D.C. industry-sponsored panel on the program.

An industry source says agencies with a delegation include the departments of Agriculture, Homeland Security, Justice and Veterans Affairs.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernmentit.com/story/major-departments-seek-continuous-monitoring-acquisition-independence-dhs/2014-03-19

Sham charged in $1.2 million veteran business fraud

A Bergen County, N.J., woman was arrested on January 8, 2014 on charges that she fraudulently represented her company as a service-disabled veteran-owned small business in order to obtain more than $1.2 million worth of government contracts set aside for disabled veterans, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

Miriam Friedman, 54, of Teaneck, N.J., surrendered to special agents from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Office of the Inspector General, as a result of a federal criminal complaint charging her with wire fraud. She is scheduled to make her initial appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III in Newark federal court.

According to the unsealed complaint:

Friedman is the owner of Office Dimensions Inc., a company in Teaneck that sells furniture and design services to industrial and government customers. Friedman and her husband control Office Dimensions and all its revenues, as well as run the company’s daily operations. Neither served in the U.S. military, but Friedman’s father-in-law is a retired U.S. military veteran.

On Nov. 23, 2009, Friedman certified in a central registry for government contractors that Office Dimensions was a service-disabled veteran-owned small business. In her certification, she allegedly falsely claimed that her father-in-law was the owner and operator, even though he had very little involvement with Office Dimensions and was not service-disabled. Friedman then bid for VA contracts set aside for service-disabled veterans who own their businesses.

From January 2010 through November 2011, the VA paid Office Dimensions more than $1.2 million on fraudulently obtained contracts to which Friedman was not entitled.

The wire fraud count with which Friedman was charged is punishable by a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000 or twice the gross loss or gain cause by the offense.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey G. Hughes; the U.S. General Services Administration, Office of the Inspector General, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James E. Adams; and IRS – Criminal Investigation, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Shantelle P. Kitchen, for the investigation leading to today’s arrest.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott B. McBride of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Health Care and Government Fraud Unit in Newark.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations and the defendant is considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.

See District of New Jersey U.S. Attorney Office’s press release at: http://www.justice.gov/usao/nj/Press/files/Friedman,%20Miriam%20Arrest%20News%20Release.html

VA official indicted in bribery case

A former U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs official in Palo Alto was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he accepted thousands of dollars in money and construction work in exchange for giving preferential treatment to government contractors.

VA sealConrad Lopez Alfaro, 69, of Fremont was charged with two counts of receiving an illegal gratuity as a public official in an indictment handed down Wednesday in San Jose.

The charges are the latest in an ongoing prosecution by federal officials, who have in court records alleged a “culture of corruption at the Palo Alto VA.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.stripes.com/news/us/ex-palo-alto-va-official-indicted-in-bribery-case-1.320096

VA’s use of reverse-auction contracts comes under attack

The use of so-called reverse auctions to lower contracting costs at the Veterans Affairs Department and General Services Administration came under tough scrutiny on Wednesday at a House joint committee hearing.

Rather than saving money, critics said, the tool drives out competition, favors a single auction company and risks a lowering of quality in the work if applied to complex projects such as construction.

Reverse auctions are a contracting process used by the government since the late 1990s to promote competition by having the agency buyer solicit bids from multiple sellers, in contrast to a standard auction where a seller solicits bids from multiple buyers. GSA in July launched a new reverse auction initiative aimed at the purchasing of supplies, or commodities, more than complex services.

But both a recently concluded two-year House investigation and a just-released Government Accountability Office report faulted the technique, noting that more than one-third of fiscal 2012 reverse auctions had no interactive bidding, and agencies paid $3.9 million in fees for those auctions. In March 2012, Veterans Affairs temporarily suspended the tool’s use so it could study the claimed savings for purchases of information technology products, medical equipment and supplies.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.govexec.com/contracting/2013/12/vas-use-reverse-auction-contracts-comes-under-attack/75359 

GAO finds agencies need guidance on use of reverse auctions

In a study released on December 11, 2013, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the potential benefits of reverse auctions–competition and savings–have not been maximized by federal agencies.

Key findings include:

 

  • Over one-third of fiscal year 2012 reverse auctions had no interactive bidding, where vendors bid against each other to drive prices lower.
  • Almost half of the reverse auctions were used to obtain items from pre-existing contracts that in some cases resulted in agencies paying two fees–one to use the contract and one to use the reverse auction contractor’s services.
  • There is a lack of comprehensive government-wide guidance and the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which is the primary document for publishing uniform policies and procedures related to federal acquisitions, does not specifically address reverse auctions. As a result, confusion exists about their use and agencies may be limited in their ability to maximize the potential benefits of reverse auctions.

The Departments of the Army, Homeland Security, the Interior, and Veterans Affairs used reverse auctions to acquire predominantly commercial items and services–primarily for information technology products and medical equipment and supplies–although the mix of products and services varied among agencies. Most–but not all–of the auctions resulted in contracts with relatively small dollar value awards–typically $150,000 or less–and a high rate of awards to small businesses. The four agencies steadily increased their use of reverse auctions from fiscal years 2008 through 2012, with about $828 million in contract awards in 2012 alone. GAO was not able to analyze data from a fifth agency, the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), because it collected only summary level information during fiscal year 2012. DLA guidance states that the reverse auction pricing tool should be used for all competitive purchases over $150,000.

Four agencies used the same commercial service provider to conduct their reverse auctions and paid a variable fee for this service, which was no more than 3 percent of the winning bid amount. DLA conducts its own auctions through a purchased license. Regardless of the method used, according to agency officials, contracting officers are still responsible for following established contracting procedures when using reverse auctions.

More details on this GAO study may be found at: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-108