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

VA contracts with non-VA medical providers lacked performance requirements, GAO says

Some Veterans Affairs Department contracts with non-VA medical providers didn’t contain specific performance requirements and contracting officer  representatives didn’t have time to monitor the contracts due to other duties,  an Oct. 31 Government Accountability Office report says.

Of the 12 contracts GAO reviewed from the four VA medical centers, 10 lacked specific performance requirements in  one or more of six categories: type of provider or care; credentialing and  privileging; clinical practice standards; medical record documentation; business  processes; and access to care.

In one case, a VA medical center cardiothoracic contract didn’t contain a  statement describing the contract provider’s responsibilities for reporting and responding to adverse events and patient complaints.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/va-contracts-non-va-medical-providers-lacked-performance-requirements-gao-s/2013-11-05

Download a copy of the GAO report at: http://www.gao.gov/assets/660/658685.pdf 

LPTA contracts gaining favor among agencies, but give vendors less incentive to innovate, study says

Lowest price technically acceptable procurements have been gaining favor  among agencies, but that gives vendors less incentive to be innovative if the  approach costs more, an Oct. 24 Market Connections and Centurion Research study says.

Under LPTA, agencies focus more on price than on past performance as long as  the vendor meets minimal job requirements. So if a vendor comes to an agency  with a unique solution that costs more than a competitor who comes with a more  basic solution, the agency is more likely to choose the cheaper solution as long  as it meets the minimum requirements.

The practice has been utilized by the Defense Department through its Better  Buying Initiative, the study says, but has proliferated through other agencies  as well.

The study showed that of the $27 billion in procurements it analyzed, the  Veterans Affairs Department was the biggest user of LPTA outside of the DoD.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/lpta-contracts-gaining-favor-among-agencies-give-vendors-less-incentive-inn/2013-10-28

 

VA awards $275 million contract to track supplies at hospitals

The Veterans Affairs Department awarded Shipcom Wireless of Houston a four-year contract with a maximum value of $275 million to help manage the supply chain in its 152 hospitals at the “point of use” — wards, operating or emergency rooms.

VA’s current supply chain system “is outdated, underutilized and often accomplished manually,” said the department, which wanted to “build a world class advanced supply chain to serve as a benchmark for the overall healthcare logistics industry.”

VA wanted to acquire a point-of-use system that uses automated supply stations to streamline the supply chain for timely delivery of required supplies to the point where those supplies are consumed throughout a hospital.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/health/2013/09/va-awards-275-million-contract-track-supplies-hospitals/70774/?oref=nextgov_defense