Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Contracting Oversight Subcommittee, prodded and poked federal small-business officials about the problems with the government’s small-business contracting goals and the sneaky ways that agencies can get credit for contracting with small businesses.
At a hearing July 26, McCaskill asked about contracting officers who tend to bend the rules to fit a contract into a particular North American Industry Classification System code to get a company to bid on a solicitation. One code over another might give the agency a broader array of potential bidders for a small-business set-aside contract or another code might boost the size standard of what a small business would be.
McCaskill is wondering about contracting officers and punishment for code shopping, as it’s called.
Let’s drop into the hearing:
McCaskill: “I’d love to get a room of contracting officers with truth serum and say, ‘Do you have any fear that if you shop the code to be able to include a company in a small-business set-aside that there will be any accountability?’ What do you think? Is anybody afraid of that in the acquisition personnel world?”
Acquisitive Mind: Madame Chair, if I may.
To your question about wanting to meet with contracting officers and talk about fears of accountability, I suggest going with Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, to the meetings he has with all sorts of contracting officers on the front lines of the acquisition personnel world.
The Frontline Forum is a group of contracting professionals — who aren’t managers or supervisors — that meets in the White House about once a quarter to share ideas and give reactions to procurement initiatives the administration is planning or considering.
Gordon has said he finds the meetings important for him to hear from the workers who deal daily with acquisition decisions, even choosing NAICS codes. He gets a chance to understand their concerns and objections. He talks with them about the world of acquisition in which they live, and their opinions don’t come through a managerial translator.
The forum began in the 1990s when Steve Kelman was OFPP administrator while Bill Clinton was president, but the meetings fell away after Kelman’s departure. Gordon revived the meetings in the past several years while he’s been administrator.
It would be a good place to meet with these contracting officers and find out if they’re frightened at all by punishments for shopping the code, as you called it.
Yes, Mr. Gordon also hosts AcqStat meetings, but he meets with managers and supervisors in those meetings.
But the Frontline Forums would allow you to get some answers about the fear of accountability for bending the procurement rules to get a small-business contract credit.
No, I don’t have the exact dates of the meetings. I don’t have that information with me. I would have to get back with you on when they meet.
However, I do know that you should bring the truth serum.
— Posted by Matthew Weigelt, Federal Computer Week, on Jul 26, 2011 at http://fcw.com/Blogs/Acquisitive-Mind/2011/07/Sen-Claire-McCaskill-contracting-officers-accountability-frontline-forum.aspx