Acquisition oversight to shift to vendors

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor

Federal acquisition officials expect the shadow of oversight to shift considerably onto vendors.

Congress has signaled a major change in how it conducts oversight, focusing on how contractors are held accountable for meeting project and program goals. And in agencies, the General Services Administration and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy are developing a new federal database that tracks contractor integrity.

“We have started to develop the database,” says Tyree Varnado, the acting commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, at panel discussion sponsored by AFFIRM in Washington Thursday. “There are challenges. We have started talking to industry so they can articulate the database’s impacts and how we can mitigate the negative ones.”

Congress mandated GSA and OFPP develop a database of detailing federal contractors and grantee integrity and performance.

Lesley Field, the acting OFPP administrator, says the database is a part of a big push for ethics.

Along with the database, the Federal Acquisition Regulation Council issued several rules that take effect in 2009 that focuses on contractors. These include conflict of interest requirements, mandatory reporting of fraud or overpayment and the requirement for vendors to develop an ethics program.

“We need to have shared accountability,” Field says.

Contractor oversight is just one of four areas Field and other federal acquisition experts believe most of the oversight will be centered around.

The acquisition workforce will receive a lot of attention this year, Field and others say.

OFPP is developing an acquisition development strategic plan. Field says Karen Pica, the former director of the Federal Acquisition Institute, joined OFPP to lead the work on the plan.

Field says an interagency team will look at what agencies need around training, recruitment and retention.

“We will develop a plan that can be implemented by this fall,” she says.

OFPP also is working on Federal Acquisition Intern Coalition to bring new workers into the field.

Varnado says GSA has been able to shift work to different part of the country when the acquisition workforce gets too busy.

“In some ways, we have virtual workforce,” he says.

Joanie Newhart, the Transportation Department’s senior procurement executive, says her department has similar challenges with the workforce.

She says her office is working with the human resources office to develop a tool kit of resources that are available to address their acquisition workforce needs.

Varnado adds that because of the ongoing workforce challenges more agencies are using GSA’s assisted acquisition services. He says the service ended up with a surplus of $500,000 in 2008, after losing more than $50 million in 2007.

“The Defense Department remains our biggest customer, but we saw a slight uptick from the civilian side as well,” he says.

Varnado points to another GSA tool–E-Buy–as a good way to address another big concern of lawmakers-competition.

He says agencies placed more than 60,000 request for quotes through E-Buy, which accounted for more than $6 billion in 2008. That was 8 percent more than in 2007.

Robert Burton, a former deputy OFPP administrator and now an attorney with the Washington law firm Venable, says over the past year Congress’s desire for more competition has been “loud and clear.”

He points to the provision in the 2009 Defense Authorization bill that lets contractors protest task orders worth more than $10 million.

“Task orders are becoming more and more like regular contracts,” he says. “And about half of all procurement dollars are spent through task orders so this is a clear sign that Congress wants more competition.”

Field adds that the Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council set up working group to look at competition in agencies and figure out how to ensure there is enough.

Field says OFPP found that about 60 percent of all contracts are actively competed.

The final area Burton, Field and others say Congress will focus on is transparency. Transparency is closely linked to accountability and performance, Field says.

“We need to make sure contracts are meeting specific performance metrics,” Field says. “Are we getting what we paid for?”

On the Web:

FederalNewsRadio – Acquisition workforce plans due

FederalNewsRadio – Acquisition system needs integration

FederalNewsRadio – Acquisition workforce is in need of leadership, training

FederalNewsRadio – All about the acting commissioner of FAS

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