Friday, December 17, 2010

Reverse Auctions: A Tool to Realize Real Cost Savings

As Government continues to leverage its buying power through continued fiscal pressures, one process that is not getting enough attention is the use of reverse auctions. Reverse auctions are an effective and efficient means of realizing large savings on purchases of not only commodities, but highly defined services as well. Although current initiatives exist such as the General Service Administration’s (GSA) Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI), which encourages adoption of industry best practices, federal buyers are simply not going far enough in leveraging their buying power to maximize price savings. To achieve maximum efficiency, the Government should begin to create holistic strategic souring initiatives that include reverse auctions as a mechanism for cost savings, since programs such as FSSI are simply catalog buys to bidders that have been pre-qualified, and mimic the GSA Schedules program. Further, many Program Managers and other acquisition officials I have spoken to state that they do not always get the best prices by using these types of pre-negotiated arrangements, and thus buy either directly from vendors or execute procurements outside these initiatives. The result is ineffective buying and the continuation of not maximizing efficiencies to the detriment of the taxpayer.

Reverse auctions are by definition a structured competitive bidding event where competition can be maximized to help drive the price lower over the course of the event. One common reason I have heard for the poor adoption rate is technology barriers, which is a frankly a disingenuous reason. The benefits of potentially significant cost savings, enhanced transparency, increased collaboration, increased competition all outweigh any barriers that seem to be artificially created by Federal organizations. If the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Obama Administration are serious about Open Government and accountability, then enhanced adoption of reverse auction should be further explored.

Another stumbling block to adoption is the issue of transparency, as the risk adverse nature of Government creates issues that should not exist through fear of protest that seems to be paralyzing acquisition decision-making. The reverse auction process is Acquisition 2.0 in motion, as reverse auctions create a structured and automated negotiation process with transparency at its core, since the process depends on vendors creating a clear and documented process for creating the pricing structure and the subsequent contracted price. It is the openness of the process that should be embraced, since the reverse auction allows for real time pricing feedback, and also allows acquisition officials to have real time visibility into the negotiation. This type of structure and the transparent process creates and enhances competition, reduces complexity, enhances collaboration, and ensures compliance with the acquisition policies and regulations.

It is these types of procurement methods that should be embraced, and will need to be further explored to help create holistic strategic sourcing initiatives for realizing true cost-savings by adjusting processes, ensuring leadership drives change, and breaking the endemic status-quo culture of Government. Successful examples of reverse auctions already exist through both Defense and civilian agency use, so lessons learned are available for use and need to be expanded upon to help with widespread adoption. As OMB continues to issue guidance on improving federal acquisitions and government management in general, reverse auctions need to be part of this process of continuous improvement and increasing accountability to the taxpayer.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Acquisition Reforms Will Focus on Oversight

As the lame duck session of the 111th Congress comes to a close, some in the acquisition community are left to wonder what lays ahead for the acquisition reform initiatives of the Obama Administration. According to many experts, the shift in political power may not make much difference for the IT and procurement communities.

I am not sure that is the case, according to plans that Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has stated as incoming chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Issa has said that the Telework Enhancement Act (H.R. 1722) lacks many of the safeguards necessary to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse. Specifically, Issa claimed employees can take advantage of the lack of direct manager oversight, does not require agencies to prove how much money they’re saving, and does not create jobs.

Although Rep. Issa continues to draft his agenda for the new Congress, I am not going to hold my breath that this process will not be politicized, when Rep. Issa makes statements such as “I want seven hearings a week, times 40 weeks.” Rep. Issa also stated he looks forward to working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and industry on ways to address wasteful spending from failed government IT programs. I think OMB is really making some important strides on this front, so we’ll either see either a real oversight agenda moving forward or more political witch-hunts as in the past.

On the Senate side, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) remains chairwoman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee’s Contracting Oversight Subcommittee. Sen. McCaskill will continue her focus on interagency contracts and reforms to the 8(a) set aside programs for Alaska Native Corporations. I hope these initiatives continue, as Sen. McCaskill has much unfinished work to do regarding abuses in these programs, so I hope that Rep. Issa seizes the opportunity to really craft bipartisan and meaningful relationships with other members on ferreting out waste, fraud, and abuse.

Another important issue is the effect of the midterm elections on open government, transparency, accountability, and the overall Gov 2.0 movement. I believe that significant movement will come on this issue, as politicians move from political use of Web 2.0 for campaigns, to executing Gov 2.0 initiatives to execute transparency initiatives and hold government accountable. Again, I hope that this renewed focus on using Gov 2.0 tools to advance Open Government and allow for more citizen engagement. However, it is hard to fathom considering this hyper partisan political environment where Congress scores so low in providing these services themselves.

I would like to see the latter happen. But I have reason to lack hope. Tim Evans, a program analyst who works on Web analytics and customer service measurement at the Social Security Administration, posted a story by Larry Freed of The Digital Citizen about a recent survey in which ForeSee Results found “a clear and proven relationship between transparency, satisfaction and trust,” and “higher transparency leads to higher citizen satisfaction with government, which in turn leads to higher trust.”

Unfortunately, “when it comes to transparency, citizen satisfaction, trust, accountability, perceived goodwill, competence and integrity, American citizens give Congress the worst scores across the board,” Freed wrote.

Not the most encouraging situation, but let’s give Rep. Issa the benefit of the doubt that he will wield his gavel responsibility to protect the taxpayers and not a political party and its agenda. Change we can believe in? We have heard that before.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fixing IT Acquisition is About Execution, not Just Personnel

According to recent reporting by Federal Times on the state of federal information technology (IT) acquisition and program management, the Government is ill prepared to purchase and manage large scale IT programs due to poorly trained staff, and poor collaboration with industry. Certainly contributing factors, but the issues are much more broad and troubling.

Two independent industry trade groups, the TechAmerica Foundation and the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council (ACT-IAC), have released reports on ways to improve the troubling state of federal IT programs. The industry groups' reports were done in advance of the expected Office of Management and Budget (OMB) release this month of the Administration’s plan for reforming IT procurement. Taken together, these two trade group reports provide a valuable roadmap to help improve the abysmal situation, and I hope OMB takes note.

What is important about these reports is that the recommendations have the ability to be implemented relatively quickly, and could have impacts in the short-term. As the reports also note, the laws, policies and procedures already on the books provide plenty of resources and flexibility for implementing the action items. Nonetheless, an important and valuable addition to these reports is the discussion of obstacles and challenges to implementation, along with subsequent action items for overcoming these issues. Many reports, including the recent memo from Dr. Ashton Carter on needed improvements to defense procurement, simply state what is needed without a roadmap on how to get there.

The report focuses on several areas including:

1) Professionalizing Program Management. Due to the constant rotation of program managers (PM), the reports called on a knowledgeable and empowered program manager who sees the project through to completion. The TechAmerica report also called on the establishment of a Program Management Leadership Academy, and enhancing training overall for PMs.

This recommendation focuses on building a bench of qualified PMs that have the tools and resources to be successful. Often, PMs are set up for failure by being assigned programs they simply have no business running. Managing IT programs can be a blood sport, and PMs need to be empowered, fully supported by management, and trained in best practice tools, techniques, and methodologies for managing IT programs along industry standards. Training is vital, but it also needs to focus on requirements, IT, finance, and contracting/acquisition. The cross-functional knowledge is required to ensure holistic program objectives are understood and achieved.

2) Promote Agile/Incremental Development. The TechAmerica report specifically states that agile development is not a cure-all for IT acquisition.

…The iterative, incremental and collaborative processes of agile development will significantly raise the Government’s return on its IT investment. It will do this by engaging with users more effectively, deploying capability more quickly and keeping better pace with rapid advancements in such technologies as cloud computing and software as a service…

The Government simply cannot expect to perform its mission with continued programs that are constantly behind schedule, over budget, and deliver little in terms of results or performance after spending millions in taxpayer funds. It is imperative to deliver smaller increments of capability, focusing scope on what is realistically achievable by closely collaborating between developers and users.

…Chief among the benefits of agile/incremental development are increasing the return on taxpayer investment through faster deployment of capability and reducing rework through faster and more effective interaction with users…

ACT-IAC called for a renewed focus on Governance, which would be used for accountability at the senior leadership level and promote the desperately needed communication that can lead to program success through agile development.

It is these best practices that can have significant impacts in the short-term. Advances in technology develop at a much faster rate than the federal acquisition lifecycle can keep up with, creating a capability gap that prevents Government from leveraging innovation and creates a system where Government purchases technologies that are outdated prematurely.

3) Improve Risk Management. The important recommendation is the call for an Independent Risk Review on major IT acquisitions. The report recommends a third party completely independent of the program, such that role is not filled by the program or the contractor executing the program. In essence, the report is calling for an Independent Validation and Verification (IV&V) role, either internal to Government or an outside contractor. This renewed focus on adherence to performance and Governance would go a long way to help ensure proper review cycles where all interested parties are held accountable for success.

4) Enhance Stakeholder Engagement. According to the TechAmerica report:

…The need for better engagement, collaboration and communication between Government and industry was cited by 78% of the Government-experienced IT leaders we interviewed, more than any other topic…

Also like the reports note, the trend recently is to build barriers to communicate and collaborate, effectively taking the Government in the wrong direction. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) encourages the communication, so why is it not happening? Risk aversion namely. Externally, the Government can use Gov 2.0 platforms for crowd sourcing, such as the Better Buy Project, to solicit user input and allow for outside sources to contribute to openness and transparency in the procurement process. Internally, ensuring end-users have a place at the table in requirements and the development of the program is important to ensuring the end system can meet objectives. The reports also tie the use of agile development as one way of doing this.

…Better communication can improve both the quality of an acquisition document and the quality of the proposed responses. The result will be a smoother acquisition at a lower cost. Better communication can also lead to greater awareness of how technology is being used innovatively in other marketplaces that could vastly improve mission delivery…

Improved acquisition outcomes are possible when industry knows what the mission and needs are of the Government, getting the opportunity to contribute and demonstrate technological capability through effective market research, combined with the Government knowing what their own needs are as well. This is only possible through open communications and partnerships with stakeholders, both internal and external.

5) Requirements. The Achilles heel of Government, the requirements process is one of the fundamental issues that create failing programs at program inception.

…As noted in the previous sections, a lack of communication and collaboration can lead to the development of patchwork requirements – or requirements that cannot be achieved by existing technologies and solutions. Similarly, overly rigid and defined requirements can preclude the agency from taking advantage of innovative solutions.

The Government does not always have a full understanding of how evolving solutions and technologies could benefit an agency’s goals and objectives, or how such solutions can be acquired by, and provisioned to, the Government. A key contributing factor to this development is the perception that federal officials increase the risk of protest due to “pre-selection” or wiring the requirements when they communicate with industry to consider possible alternative technological solutions or capabilities for meeting Government requirements…

Both reports called for increased collaboration and agile development to help control requirements. However, the entire requirements process needs a paradigm shift to leverage these proposed solutions.

Focusing on outcomes and allowing industry to propose innovative solutions to solve Government’s problems is the path to success. Government simply is not prepared, or has the technological acumen, to know what is in its best interest. Instead, it must focus on what it needs to perform its mission. Allow industry to present truly best value, and then manage to results. It is this renewed focus on the disease on procurement failures that can have a major impact on outcomes, but only when leadership understands that business as usual is not an option.

These proposed recommendations can go a long way to helping improve IT acquisition and management. It starts with an understanding where knowledge is housed, work to our strengths, and create real partnerships between Government and industry to stop the cycle of fraud, waste, and abuse that starts with poor requirements, poor management practices, and the inability to execute.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Executing Requirements Is Not A Zero Sum Game

As government watchdog groups continue to focus on ways to reform the acquisition process and create greater transparency, the issue of requirements seems to be a common denominator for many examples of waste, fraud, and abuse in federal procurement.

Dr. Steve Kelman wrote on his Federal Computer Week blog The Lectern about approaching the issue from the perspective of the acquisition phase. This interesting perspective offers a lot of promise, as the current process is simply not sufficient to find true best value in federal procurements. Now, vendors are made to endure writing contests in response to a government solicitation at great time and expense that don’t necessarily respond to the government’s needs. It becomes about the writing and not the substance. The result is that contractors either do not execute on what they proposed, or the government does not manage the contract effectively by holding contractors accountable, or a combination of both. How do we prevent this from happening?

One approach is the use of oral presentations. Although this technique is gathering more traction in procurements, especially for IT, it should be used with more frequency to evaluate an offeror as a potential business partner. Because of the focus on the written response, many government contractors have proposal development experts or even proposal development organizations within their respective companies that have years of experience responding to federal proposals. The end result is that contractors are great at responding to proposals, but without those responsible for actually doing the work being more involved in writing proposals, the execution will be lacking.

This approach of involving the implementers would go much further in ensuring a proposal is more than just eloquent prose, but an actionable document that becomes part of the contract, and how it will be executed and managed. Many procurement officials are left wondering if vendor program managers even read their own proposals. Government officials who do not hold contractors accountable for the successful outcome of a program exacerbate this process. The result is failure, or the status quo. Supplementing written submissions with oral presentation can help alleviate this problem by ensuring the government can have a face-to-face meeting with a potential contractor, and get a better sense of what they are buying.

For oral presentations to be successful, the government must require that the vendor personnel who will actively manage and execute the program be the ones to conduct the presentation. Otherwise, the government will get business development personnel who are trained, and excel, in selling. The government needs to focus on executing, not marketing.

Further, these oral presentations need to be rated and evaluated as part of the source selection. Increasingly oral presentations are conducted with little effort toward ensuring a program can be successful or that the offeror is a good fit to solve the government’s problem. Oral presentations are an excellent way to cut through the smoke screen of a wonderfully written proposal that either does not fully address the government’s need, is fraught with risk, or simply is marketing disguised as solutions.

Another effective tool that should be used more frequently is the post-award conference which brings together key individuals from both sides, and ensures both accountability and responsibility are at the forefront of contract management and execution. This sets up both parties for success by ensuring that the contractor understands the government’s requirements and that roles and responsibilities are established for all parties. It also ensures the government understands the proposed solution, associated risks, quality control, program management, and issues in administering the contract. Hosting ineffective conferences or simply not conducting them at all on complex acquisitions, and for many other IT programs, is inexcusable. The current process of government and industry program managers shaking hands and going off to the races to waste taxpayer money must come to an end.

Although these techniques are nothing new, they can go a long way to turning around poor acquisition outcomes. Certainly the current requirements development process is broken and needs to have a thorough review to address. However, executing on current federal requirements can see improvements if both industry and government understand that they are not reinventing the wheel. Slight changes in business processes and conducting effective contract management require simply adhering to disciplined implementation.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Improving Federal Acquisitions: Let's Do It Right

Over on Federal Computer Week, Dr. Steve Kelman has written several blog posts on The Lectern in a series of issues related to improving federal acquisitions and communications, specifically information technology projects. Although I have commented on the specific blog posts, I wanted to have a more in depth discussion here.

Improving Federal IT Acquisitions

I felt the wrong questions were being asked.

…Early in the conversation, Dan Gordon, on the panel as the administrator of the federal Office of Federal Procurement Policy, posed an important question in a very interesting way. He asked: "I am guessing that many in industry know when they read an RFP [request for proposals] that the government is putting out to bid a program that is likely to fail. Yet I am also guessing that industry seldom says this to the government. What can we do to change this?"…

Many issues are raised with this line of questioning. First, what benefit would industry have at this stage in the acquisition to be offering advice on an RFP? None really. In fact, I believe that this type of information would put industry at a disadvantage, since the government would never pull an RFP or even consider reshaping requirements since an enormous amount of effort and time have been dedicated at this point. For large IT acquisitions, it sometimes takes years before and RFP gets issued. Although sometimes requirements are so poorly written that cancelling an RFP and starting over really is the best solution, this seldom happens. Programs fail before they even start, and taxpayers get fleeced. This story is all too common in federal procurement.

The real issue here is to get the requirements properly structured so that the program can be successful from the beginning. Using the current Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), all the tools already exist in Market Research (FAR Part 10), and Exchanges with Industry Before Receipt of Proposals (FAR 15.201). So why are these techniques seldom used? What can be done to improve this process?

Contracting personnel, in addition to project and program managers, need to understand that the current process is not working. The fear of protest, possibly unethical behavior, or unknowingly giving away proprietary information (i.e. risk aversion) needs to change. If these fears proved to be the case, the FAR would outright prohibit any exchanges with industry in the first place. Government personnel need to understand that programs fail at the beginning, due to poor acquisition planning and poorly defined requirements. Almost any Government Accountability Office report on acquisition failures will undoubtedly have these statements in the Executive Summary. What was the definition of madness again?

One initiative that needs to be expanded and fully embraced is the General Service Administration’s Better Buy Project. This initiative has had successful trial runs using Gov 2.0 techniques (e.g. blogs, Wikis, etc.) to solicit input and feedback on both the federal acquisition process, but also on specific procurements using crowdsourcing methodologies to help improve the communications process between GSA and industry. There is no more equal playing field than using these techniques, since everyone has the opportunity provide input and helping ensure a procurement is successful from the beginning.

The biggest barriers are of course cultural. What is very telling are some of the comments from both sides of the issue on Dr. Kelman’s post, illustrating the great divide and skepticism that exists from increased access and communications:

Government’s Side:

…One major issue is: companies do not necessarily want to hand over their expert critiques to the government for free. Companies often find their top ideas used to fix a bad requirement--that is free consulting. They are giving away their ability to differentiate themselves from other firms that don't see the flaws and/or don't know how to solve them. Secondly, if companies were truly partners with the government, this would not be a problem. However, neither government nor contractors really want to be partners, in fact. If they were, they would accept the consequences together of bad outcomes, and the companies would make no money. No one has ever seen a government contract that reads remotely like a partnership agreement. Partnering is hackneyed, misleading, self-serving, and false in just about all its usages in the government contracting arena…

Given a chance, I believe that industry would gladly help the government resolve issues up front in the requirements development process, again if given the chance. I do not believe it is practical, nor realistic, to think that industry will voluntarily tell the government an RFP is a disaster. Several reasons include the fact that these comments will fall on deaf ears, or worse, adversely affect a company’s image. Further, the notion of best value seems to be elusive, as lowest costs seems to be the primary source of contract awards. Why bother adding value when lowest cost is desired. Perhaps value engineering should be part of every project, and adding the lessons learned to future engagements.

However, it is the partnership that will ultimately lead to program success. The comments left by this reader are unfortunately not uncommon, and somewhat true. Many firms have a vested interest in the status quo, and do not seem eager to change their approach. I also do not see the practically in using industry feedback as some kind of evaluation factor as Dr. Kelman suggests. This approach would undoubtedly lead to self-serving “improvement requests,” which is what best value is supposed to correct for anyway; what is in the best interest of the government (e.g. exceeding requirements and differentiating a proposed solution).

Industry’s Side:

…Both responses to your suggestion are accurate. We, as contractors, don't want to be in the position of suggesting to an agency that their pursuit position is incorrect. We never know who accesses those types of comments nor how they may react to suggestions to improve their position. The second suggestion is more prevalent than many expect. "Cut and paste" RFIs and Sources Sought requests generally include inadequacies, inconsistencies and contradictory pictures of the agency's true environment. These are indications that they technical involvement necessary is absent or lacking and making suggestions as to how to correct these are often not received well. In addition, fear of OCI issues has reached a point where these same contracts people will not even talk with or accept input from industry well in advance of the solicitation release. Until contracting people understand that the government encourages interaction with industry up to the release of a solicitation, these issues will not go away…

I do not believe that technical incompetence is the primary issue. I believe, and have experienced, that technical competence for a program is a function of acquiring that knowledge that normally exists internally. The fragmented way that the government buys is normally the culprit, where programs develop requirements in a vacuum without conducting a thorough stakeholder analysis, soliciting feedback or input for proper requirements development, then kick it over the fence to acquisition and contract shops. At this stage, not knowing the procurement or even the customer in some cases, contracting shops try to getting the procurement of their desk and take shortcuts at the detriment of the program, as the reader suggests. Using boilerplate information, templates, and checklists are a great way to streamline an acquisition. There is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, as I certainly use these tools with federal clients. However, tailoring the information carefully is vital, and sometimes this quality control is lacking in federal procurements.

The Organization Conflict of Interest (OCI) issue is another barrier to increased communications from industry. Many firms fear that being proactive in helping shape requirements will OCI-themselves out of competition for a particular procurement. This is a major issue that needs more thoughtful analysis, as the point of crowdsourcing is to solicit information from all parties equally, and allow for even greater opportunities for competition with requirements that are not overly restrictive and well understood by industry. Firms should not be penalized, nor should they have fear of being penalized. The government is doing itself a disservice by not properly proving these protections.

Overall, the closed-door mentality to communications is doing the opposite of what the latest acquisition reforms are trying to accomplish. I hope the Office of Management and Budget provides further guidance on this issue, and give industry a greater say in helping the government execute its acquisition reforms. All parties would benefit, especially the taxpayer in the end.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Your Taxpayer Dollar$ at Work: Volume I – Follow Up

I recently started a new piece here on the The Acquisition Corner, as a result of the complete fiscal mismanagement of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

The Federal Times reported this week that the issues with the USPS are not only severe, but at the point that radical change is necessary if the USPS is to survive:

…Postmaster General John Potter warned Friday that the U.S. Postal Service could go broke by next September.

"If things go as expected, we will perhaps be able to get through the year and literally run out of cash in September of 2011 because we will have exhausted all of our borrowing authority," he said at a news conference.

He said losses in the fiscal year ending yesterday widened to about $6 billion…

It gets worse:

…This has been a devastating week for the Postal Service. Besides ending the year with a $6 billion loss, the agency's bid to raise stamp rates was rejected by the Postal Regulatory Commission on Thursday. The proposed rate hike would have increased first-class stamps from 44 cents to 46 cents starting in January.

Potter said the agency is studying its options in the wake of that decision. Among those options: Appeal the decision to a federal court; refile the rate request; or seek to raise rates by an amount tied to the inflation rate. That last step would not require the PRC's approval, although the commission would have to verify that the increase is no higher than a cap linked to the Consumer Price Index. According to the latest available numbers, that formula would permit an average rate increase of about 1.5 percent, a PRC spokesman said today…

What about consolidating operations, cutting costs, and other tools to improve performance to help the fiscal crisis facing the USPS? Perhaps it was not reported, but I have not seen much effort coming from USPS management on these issues other than possibly cutting Saturday delivery. The forever stamps may be an option as I commented, but hopefully they will still have utility.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Your Taxpayer Dollar$ at Work: Volume I

As reported by the Washington Post, there seems to be a culture of corruption and massive waste, fraud, and abuse according to several Inspector General reports investigating operations of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS).

Upon reading this article and other IG reports, the waste, fraud, and abuse that seems to be cultural at USPS is hard to swallow. However, I have been inspired to start a new piece here on The Acquisition Corner: Your Taxpayer Dollar$ at Work. My first edition!

…Dozens of former top executives and hundreds of former employees have returned to the agency in recent years as private contractors, sometimes making double the salaries they made as full-time workers, according to one of three watchdog audits released late last week…

I do not believe anything is really wrong with that, per se. Many federal government employees leave their federal positions, start companies or work as contractors, and make more money doing so. There are conflict of interest laws in place. What is wrong with that?

…"It appears unethical to hire back former executives at nearly twice their former pay to advise new executives who were placed in their position based on their expertise and years of Postal Service experience," the report said…{Emphasis mine}

…The Postal Service has awarded more than 2,700 contracts to former employees since 1991 and awarded 17 no-bid deals to former executives between 2006 and 2009, according to one of the audits. Most of those executives earned six-figure sums, the report said. One unnamed executive received a $260,000 no-bid deal in July 2009 to train his successor just two months after retiring...{Emphasis mine}

Hired as a contractor to train and get up to speed your replacement? How does that even happen?

…The reports said the cash-strapped Postal Service is doing a poor job tracking its use of no-bid contracts, contributes more to worker health and life insurance benefits than other federal agencies and should consider closing more of its regional offices to help address an expected $230 billion, 10-year budget gap.

…The Postal Service is set to report billions of dollars in losses this week because of declining mail volume. It is also awaiting permission from regulators to raise postage rates and is locked in negotiations with two of its largest unions…

…Beyond employment contracts, the Postal Service improperly classified the status of 5 percent, or $910 million, of its $18 billion annual contracting costs, according to the report…

What a mess. It seems that that the mechanisms to provide contract oversight and surveillance are not only negligently poor and inadequate, but actually appear to make the oversight mechanisms for Iraq and Afghanistan sound like the equivalent of a well-oiled machine. Further, the USPS unions appear to be also obstinate and inflexible, in the face of a needed overhaul in how the USPS does business. Not just to improve, but to survive.

Better go out and get those “Forever” stamps, as postage rate hikes will be going up, in perpetuity.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Procurement Efficiencies Through Multiple Award Contracts

As reported by Federal News Radio, The Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) is pursuing several short-term initiatives to reign in the proliferation of multiple award contracts (MACs)

"Progress has been made in improving some aspects of interagency acquisition," said Jeff Zients, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget in its annual report to Congress on interagency contracting.

"Most agencies have advised OMB that their buying organizations are strengthening internal management controls to improve the processes used to evaluate if an interagency acquisition is likely to be beneficial as well as those to manage the roles and responsibilities each agency bears in such an arrangement. However, on other fronts, progress has been insufficient and uneven. In particular, there continues to be concern that the agencies, through both single-agency and multi-agency contracts, may be duplicating each other's contracting efforts and creating redundant contracting capacity."

There is no question that the explosion of MACs has created excessive waste and administrative burdens to both the government and industry. Reigning in this problem requires a two-pronged attack strategy: stop unnecessary new MACs from being created, and consolidate the ones that currently exist.

According to the report, OFPP guidance expected later this year would require agencies to prepare business cases that describe the expected need for the contract vehicle, the value that its creation would add, and the agency's suitability to serve as an executive agent. Business cases should be mandatory for all new MACs. The focus, of course, needs to be effective resource management, not to mention a comprehensive requirements development and stakeholder analysis to ensure internal and external MAC sources are not available to meet the new requirement. OFPP guidance should also make it clear that any new MAC needs to be justified my ensuring no other vehicle can be used to execute the need. There exist few legitimate arguments, in my opinion, that can justify this explosion of MACs. What I see is continued waste through little collaboration across government and distrust in other agencies MAC products to ensure lower prices.

I believe industry would also appreciate the opportunity to cut a lot of the expensive and burdensome administration of having to compete and manage multiple MACs for similar products and services. The government has created a culture of redundancy for industry by a "Pay to Play" construct. I do not mean anything nefarious, but firms are forced to spend resources to be on multiple MACs that offer similar services. Take a look at the average website for firms that provide goods and services to the federal government, and you will see the numerous vehicles, with the subsequent overlap and redundancies.

What about small business participation and ensuring consolidation does not turn into a bundling exercise? Accountability is the answer. Ensuring small business participation and execution of small business objectives for MAC awardees is crucial to ensure small businesses can compete. Also finding ways to include small business only MACs, such as Alliant Small Business (Alliant SB), is another appropriate activity.

I am not a big believer in reinventing the wheel, but yet another government database to capture even more data that exists? Really OFPP? I believe this already exists in the Interagency Contract Directory (ICD). Not the best system in the world, but with investment and increased capability, it can be very effective so long as the interfaces and information in Federal Procurement Data Systems-Next Generation (FPDS-NG) are correct and robust.

Overall, a lot of work is needed to improve this process, but it must be done through a standardized and centralized approach. There are way too many contracts for similar products and services these days, and the government will not be able to effectively implement any consolidated, strategic sourcing without a real push by leaders across government to get on the same team and work for the taxpayers vice their own self-interests.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Behind the Curtain: Communications in the Acquisition Process

With the end of the fiscal year comes the right of passage for government contracting personnel and contractors alike; the end-of year budget dump or as I like to call it, the end of fiscal year feeding frenzy. This time of year is characterized by the worst practices in federal contracting: lack of any real acquisition planning, abundance of improperly justified sole-source contracts, and the overall lack of meaningful competition.

Coming off the heels of a new report by GAO on the lack of competition, one clear issue is the woefully inadequate communication between industry and government.

The SBA takes the general position that a procuring agency does not need to document in a contract file any other prospective sources if the agency selects an 8(a) participant to perform the requirement, offers it to SBA, and SBA accepts the requirement into the 8(a) program. SBA officials note that it is the procuring agency’s responsibility to conduct market research to determine whether the requirements of the Small Business Act can be met, and then to determine the appropriate contracting vehicle to use. However, SBA considers market research requirements to be satisfied when a participant in the 8(a) program self-markets its abilities to a procuring agency and is subsequently offered a sole source 8(a) requirement. When we discussed this issue with procurement policy officials at DHS, they said that, while these activities may meet the regulatory requirements, in practice they like to see additional market research so that the offer to the 8(a) firm has a more solid basis. {Emphasis added}

Get it off one’s desk seems to be the prevailing attitude, along with the closing down of accepting any new requirements to handle the end-of-year rush to get dollars out the door. Is it just simple correlation that more procurement activity carries more risk of protest? If so, then something has gone wrong.

To improve competition and get meaningful best value outcomes, communication with potential vendors is an essential part of the market research process. Common forms include written exchanges of information (e.g., submission of marketing materials or responses to Requests for Information), in addition to also meetings with potential vendors.

However, it is the risk aversion and untrained contracting officials, combined with poor integration with program management and contracting that often makes this process difficult. A recent article in Government Procurement magazine shared a similar sentiment:

This concern can have a chilling effect on communication with vendors. In response to a request for a meeting prior to release of an RFP, one state official recently wrote: “If I meet with them even as an introductory meeting, then I assume they understand they will be precluded from bidding on any project we bid out the next six months.” Is this level of concern by state and local officials warranted? We think clearly it is not.

Nor do I. In fact, Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 15, “Contracting by Negotiation,” balances the dual goals of “openness” and “integrity” in the procurement process by specifically encouraging pre-RFP meetings and exchanges of information between public officials and potential vendors. Good acquisition planning needs open communications, not to mention the FAR specifically identifies “one-on-one meetings” as an appropriate means of accomplishing these exchanges. Program Managers needs to ensure they know what is appropriate, and Contracting Officers need to provide this guidance and act as business advisors in this process. Simple processes to help alleviate end-of-year fiascos before they happen.

What really are the goals here? Openness, transparency, and fairness for starters. Procurement official must treat all potential vendors impartially and provide equal access to all. This ensures the process is fair. For these reasons, I believe initiatives like the Better Buy Project are an important tool to meet these procurement goals, since crowd sourcing is the foundation for access to all, along with Acquisition 2.0 tools that continue to provide the transparency and openness required of the contracting process.

An informed understanding of current industry capabilities and practices results in both better RFPs and better contracts, since industry will have participated in requirements development to ensure fairness, but also realistic objectives and schedules to also help ensure positive outcomes.

More communication with industry promotes more competition, better solutions and better pricing. Ambiguity in the final RFP translates to misaligned solutions or risk for a vendor who responds with higher pricing. The latest developments, especially in such complex fields as information technology, healthcare and environmental sciences, are difficult to harness unless you put industry competitors to work for you.

Let’s capture innovation and stop reinventing the wheel, as I too believe it is ridiculous to think that government officials are so easily manipulated or influenced with these approaches that communications and Acquisition 2.0 initiatives will rig procurements. It is risk aversion and the lack of accountability indicative in the procurement process that acts as barriers to success. Continued advancements through Acquisition 2.0 pilots will hopefully not only demonstrate the potential of openness and transparency, but also provide guidance on transforming the way government does business and allow for accountability to the taxpayer, which should be the ultimate goal.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Insourcing: More Specific Guidance from OMB is Needed For Success

Under guidance from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), expected later this summer, agencies will need to develop a business case before launching a multi-agency contract (MAC). According to the preliminary guidance, the business cases will require agencies to address the government’s ability to leverage its buying power with the creation of the new ability vehicle.

“We believe it is prudent for an agency to develop a business case before moving forward with that approach,” said OFPP Administrator Daniel Gordon.

Although this guidance is long overdue, and is a significant step in helping stem the tide of further waste and consolidating buying, what remains undone is the needed guidance and specifics on dealing with insourcing.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued findings last fall about how insourcing policy was being developed, and the results remain disappointing. In March 2009, Congress enacted section 736 of the Omnibus Appropriations Act, which required all federal agencies except the Department of Defense (DOD) to devise and implement guidelines for insourcing new and contracted-out functions by mid-July 2009. Curiously, section 736 does not specify a role for OMB in the development and implementation of the civilian agency insourcing guidelines, which has resulted in failures to properly address this critical issue to the government workforce.

Nonetheless, OMB has issued guidance to facilitate the management of the federal government’s multi-sector workforce through an approach that uses best practices to human capital management and costs analysis, but clear guidelines for creating proper business cases continues to be missing or unclear. Further complicating this issue is the continued review of the term “inherently governmental,” and lessons learned from the multi-sector workforce pilots.

OMB must take the lead in developing the guidelines and providing the oversight and approval of agency-specific guidelines, as agencies claim these insourcing guidelines are complex and involve many agency functions. This exacerbates workforce issues that are difficult enough in dealing with multiple management initiatives in addition to regular core duties. OMB must provide government the direction necessary to ensure that insourcing is done correctly, which includes business cases and stakeholder analyses to ensure agency missions are performed with the right set of skills and capabilities.

What has happened is that confusion as to when a cost analysis is needed, in addition to the appropriate methodology to conduct the cost analysis, has made defining procedures necessary to sufficiently address cost issues challenging. Standardization is necessary, as GAO stated that OMB’s criteria do not specify the procedures for conducting a cost analysis or define what constitutes full cost of performance, while some agency officials insist they need to have the flexibility in determining how it should conduct cost analyses when making insourcing decisions. This is a recipe for disaster without uniformity and proper service-contract data, which also remains difficult to gather and analyze.

It also appears that OMB guidance is being viewed as a directive. More pressure is being put on acquisition workforce to use fixed-price contracts, regardless of requirements. This also appears to be the case in how insourcing is being conducted, as illustrated by the case of Rohmann Services Inc., a small business who successfully challenged an insourcing decision by the Air Force due to improper cost analysis in its reasoning for its decision.

There needs to be consolidated, overall guidance on insourcing across government, and the DOD should not be excluded. OMB should have a coordinated effort to help ensure insourcing is conducted in a proper and fair manner for all parties involved, and proper business cases get conducted to ensure the taxpayer gets the best deal.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Blended Workforce Done Strategically is Right Sizing

The insourcing debate seems to have heated up this month, as competing forces are all at play and all are trying to be satisfied. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) continues to provide guidance on inherently governmental functions, public comments continue on the proposed rules, and groups to help small business seem to forming in an effort to organize resistance to “non-strategic” insourcing that will disproportionally affect their business and possibly their survival. 

Along those lines, recent testimony talked to the difficulties and challenges that result with strategically insourcing:

"In many cases, overreliance on contractors may be corrected by allocating additional resources to contract management," said Daniel Gordon, administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Federal Procurement Policy, in prepared testimony for the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management, the Federal Workforce, and the District of Columbia. "In other words, rebalancing does not require an agency to insource ... provided the agency can hire, retrain or reassign sufficient federal employees with the requisite skills in managing contractors to maintain control of their activities."

Accordingly, Administration officials and Congress appear to understand that the effort to “rebalance” the workforce must be done deliberately.

…"Rebalancing the federal workforce will not simply be a job conversion process," said subcommittee Chairman Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. "This effort will take considerable workforce planning to determine what federal positions should be created and what contracting functions eliminated."…

…"We must ensure that the goals we are asking agencies to achieve with respect to insourcing can be achieved using current hiring tools," said Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio. "If not, the administration or Congress must supply agencies with sufficient flexibilities to get the job done."…

Although the debate has many aspects and stakeholders across the Government, it is the small businesses and firms affected that seem to be lost in this debate about insourcing the right way. Where is the strategic nature of these actions?

Although a provision in the fiscal 2011 Defense authorization bill, approved by the House Armed Services Committee, would prevent the Pentagon from establishing "any arbitrary goals or targets to implement DoD's insourcing initiative," it does not seem that DoD is taking this measure seriously.

Earlier this month, Professional Services Council President Stan Soloway, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates to raise concerns that the Pentagon's plan to bring thousands of contracted positions back to the Pentagon has gone off track. I am not sure if there has been a response yet by the Secretary or DoD, but there seems to be lack of any concerted effort to show demonstrated savings or any cost analysis that warrant the actions or create the best deal for the taxpayer.

…"From a budgetary perspective, the [Defense] components are simply eliminating fully burdened contract costs with less than fully burdened personnel costs," Soloway wrote. "Moreover, market competition, which the president has repeatedly identified as the key to improving performing and reducing costs, is not even being considered in DoD's and the components' planning. Rather, for work that does not fall into the categories you identified as being critical to the department, DoD is substituting a sole-source model for a competition-based model of management."…

Rebuffing these claims of improper costs analysis has been Christine Fox, director of Defense's cost assessment and program evaluation. Ms. Fox issued guidance earlier this year for comparing the labor costs of civilian and contract support. Falling short of the guidance, however, are a number of costs that should be attributed to the government, which include training and development according to Mr. Soloway. The guidance also cites the expenses incurred by DoD for contract administration and oversight, but does not include similar information when the work is performed by federal employees. Why the disconnect? An oversight or trying to fit a position into an argument?

The insourcing pressure at DoD is intense, as Secretary Gates has called for DOD to reduce the number of support service contractors from its current level of 39 percent of the workforce to its pre-2001 level of 26 percent, with acquisition positions being the largest increase.

…"As a result of this lack of process discipline, we are witnessing thousands of contractor employees, many of them members of a union and/or employees of small businesses (some of which face the potential of literally going out of business), having their jobs terminated, in many cases leaving contractor employees without work," wrote R. Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the International Association of Machinists…

There are many competing forces at stake, but It is unfortunate that strategic analysis seems to have gone by they wayside to fulfill policy that benefits narrow interests and seems to be opposed to what is in the best interest of the taxpayer and the mission.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Performance Based Contracting Needs a Continued Push through Acquisition 2.0

Why has it been so difficult to execute performance-based contracting? Certainly the complexities of modern-day service contracting play a part, but as Steve Kelman, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy points out, it has been a frustrating and slow moving initiative making little headway in proper execution of these methods.

…There is one obvious reason for this: If you haven’t included performance metrics in your contract, it involves a lot of work to change it into a performance-based contract when you go to recompete it. And there are other reasons. Sometimes it is genuinely difficult to develop relevant performance metrics for contractors, just as it is for in-house activities — for example, what are relevant outcome-based metrics for State Department diplomacy? Finally, there is the sometimes vexing issue of changing and adding to performance metrics during the life of a long contract as technology and user requirements change…

The issue is beyond metrics, as it starts with understanding the outcomes and objectives of what performance-based contracting is all about. It requires a different mind-set, a different set of skills and capabilities, but most important, it involves understanding that culture is probably the biggest barrier of all.

The tools of the Acquisition 2.0 community can have a role in changing this culture, as one of the central tenets of this methodology is about collaboration, specifically between industry and the government. Using initiatives such as the Better Buy Project, outside parties, as well as those inside the government, can add value to the dialogue:

…Program managers need to recognize that some of the things that add to the time it takes to get a contract awarded are good investments that ensure faster and better execution of the contract in the long run. In that case, the evidence is overwhelming that using performance metrics — whether for in-house or contracted activities — can improve performance by motivating and focusing employees and facilitating feedback, which is a necessary tool for organizational learning. We need to bring those benefits to contracting…

Of course, determined leaders acting as change agents will always be needed to push for new ways of doing business. Deborah Broderick, the FBI’s new senior procurement executive, seems to understand these responsibilities and has taken a lead in changing the culture at FBI and its mixed track records of procurement outcomes. 

One of her approaches was to actively engage training where it counts, to help program managers, contracting officers, and the contracting officer's technical representatives in developing proper performance-based contracts with objectives at the time of actually writing the bid. This approach has allowed for innovation, and the ability to focus on outcomes. Further, the approach measures those outcomes through development of proper performance metrics and other contract provisions specific to the procurement in question and not generic metrics made for manufacturing or other boilerplate metrics that are used for the sake of speed and cutting corners. As Dr. Kelman points out, these methods will take time, and leaders must help offset the pressure for speed and sacrificing doing what is right. This pressure is often short-sighted, and may help contribute to the status quo; cost, schedule, and performance issues.

Acquisition 2.0 tools can help aggregate the ideas for performance metrics through crowd sourcing, as both industry and government know what has worked, but more importantly, what has not worked. We have to understand that performance-based contracting is not a silver bullet. However, when investments are made in these techniques, the return on that investment has the potential to be great, and go a long way in improving government management overall. 

Friday, March 5, 2010

Acquisition 2.0 Starts With FAR 2.0

Originally posted on BetterBlog, this official blog of the Better Buy Project.

Let me first apologize to Andy Krzmarzick (@krazykris on Twitter), as I have been promising a post on performance-based contracting and how it relates to the Better Buy Project and the Acquisition 2.0 initiative. I actually started that post, but put in on hold a bit as I found something of interest that I have also been meaning to discuss.

At the Better Buy Project forum at the National Association of Public Administration (NAPA) last December, I was discussing with Mary Davie of the General Services Administration the need to reform not only acquisition, but the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) itself. We both commented that we often get curious looks when we mention this in conversation, but part of the rebuilding of the acquisition mission is to look at the FAR, as it seems ripe for an overhaul. In fact, the FAR can be fertile ground for change, and that change can certainly be done under the umbrella of Acquisition 2.0 tools and methodologies, much like performance-based contracting.

The FAR, in my opinion, has become a snake-pit of over-regulation; a maze of parochial interest. As lawmakers turned to help constituencies and thus narrow interests, or through well-meaning yet poorly planned and poorly though out policy, the current FAR is an example of simply how not to conduct world-class buying.

I was revisiting a wonderful piece of common sense approaches to reform by the Procurement Roundtable (PRT) that are very relevant to the current transformation discussion, not to mention illustrative of how difficult reform can be as the report is dated December, 1999.

The recommendation regarding policy guidance I believe to be spot on, and concur with the PRT that the way forward is much less regulation and far fewer detailed procurement laws. The reform process would work in an Acquisition 2.0 construct, where mission and broad policy statements commence the process of the final outcome; a digital, e-procurement guidance or FAR 2.0.

Under FAR 2.0, guidance should focus on outcomes and mission by concentrating on National or agency goals and objectives. This guidance would not be regulation, and would certainly not be details about how to perform the mission.

The next step is recreating FAR 2.0 would be a crowd sourcing initiative, much like the Better Buy Project. The acquisition community would be able to comment on eliminating the redundancy and over-regulation, focus on commercial best practices, and eliminate those existing statutes, agency regulations, and other directives that burden procurement and detail how to perform the mission. This approach is what the PRT referred to as a "zero-based" approach; which is to start with a blank sheet and add only what can be thoroughly justified.

Further input would of course be proposals for re-creating and streamlining the buying process, changing the new FAR to make it a "what, not how" model of world-class procurement. The rule for streamlining and creating FAR 2.0 would be to follow those commercial processes that allow for a fair and open acquisition process, and allow for real transparency and accountability to the taxpayer. This new process would be based on constant innovation; eliminating and revising any existing guidance or policy that does not allow for the leveraging of new information technology. The goal is to build an acquisition process for the 21st century, and executed by a right-sized and blended 21st century acquisition workforce with the right skills and capabilities to leverage this new process.

Not an easy task, no doubt. However, recognizing the institutional challenges that have hampered reform in the past are the first areas to attack by change agents and leaders who claim to want real, meaningful reform, and who are also demanding accountability and transparency. Some agencies will continue claiming uniqueness, and Congress may the biggest obstacle. However, the Acquisition 2.0 forum and the collaborative nature of this FAR 2.0 initiative can use the successes and lessons learned from Better Buy to involve all the concerned stakeholders, including the organizations that published the overly prescriptive guidance and have legitimacy to claims of uniqueness. Only by taking risks and exploring innovative ideas can we expect to see change that matters.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Portraying Government Procurement: Is It The Media Or The Culture?

Recent testimony by Steve Schooner, co-director of The George Washington University's Government Procurement Law Program, and others before the House Armed Services Committee's Defense Acquisition Reform Panel, helped paint the picture and made valid points about how the media portrays the federal acquisition environment and the current state it is in.

"The pervasive anti-contractor rhetoric emanating from the media, not-for-profit organizations, the legislature, the executive branch (including, among others, the Justice Department, Defense Contract Audit Agency and the inspectors general) colors public perceptions of contractors and the acquisition profession," said Mr. Schooner. "There is more truth to black humor in Jacques Gansler's popular new moniker for the current environment -- the 'global war on contractors.' "

However, I believe this is only half the story. I believe the media is simply reporting on what is becoming a culture of “Insource at All Costs,” with little regard to quality of the acquisition workforce, and thus creating the term that Mr. Gansler referenced.

The current environment and culture of the acquisition workforce that new hires enter into is not a pretty picture. For years the workforce has been neglected, with little attention to building skills or future capabilities. Furthermore, the environment has been one of risk aversion, exacerbated with little need for innovation or developing the tools necessary to be true business advisors and partners for programs. The result is that the acquisition workforce has stagnated on many fronts, and new hires seem to be lost in developing their own skills.

The average professional in the current workforce is very experienced, but it is becoming more and more difficult for them to train and mentor new hires, which tend to be younger and less experienced. I do not believe this is a result of generational friction, which may the case in some instances, but more of a function of the lack of resources. Many simply do not have the time, or leadership does not see it as a priority. This very fact was further discussed by Steve Kelman in a recent blog post on this topic.

The federal procurement process is a maze of bureaucracy and mind-numbing regulations that takes years of experience and know-how on navigating these difficult waters. But as Mr. Kelman pointed out, new hires seem to be given very little focused training to the point that the new hires he was talking to had received no guidance on learning anything about the products or services they were buying. The overall feedback he received was alarming, as was the lack of innovation and underutilization of these talented people who want to serve. Chairman Rep. Rob Andrews, D-N.J, said it best:

…"If you make the proper investment in experience and skill, if you motivate and reward experienced and skilled people and empower them to do the things that need to be done, they can make improvements that can turn the whole system around."

Ultimately these issues need to be solved by changing the culture and environment, and driven by the supervisors, senior contracting officials, and acquisition leaders at the agencies to create the 21st century acquisition workforce. Further, empowering the next generation is ultimately necessary to succeed, and not be treated as a necessary-evil but a strategic imperative by leadership.

However, the guidance from the Office and Management and Budget seems to be more distressing, as I see further evidence of the counter product attitude that seems to be emanating from the various institutions Mr. Schooner identified in his testimony. Leadership is vitality needed to help solve these daunting issues, as industry and government need to be working more collaboratively, expanding ways they communicate, and fining solutions together. However, it seems that the pervasive attitude is for the pendulum to drastically swing in the government’s direction, vice finding the right balance to perform the vital missions of government to ensure the best outcomes for cost, schedule, and performance.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Progress in Afghanistan Contract Oversight; Measured Optimism

I recently wrote a piece for contract management improvements in reconstruction and nation-building initiatives. Updates were provided by Senator Claire McCaskill, (D-Mo), who is completing an overseas trip, including Afghanistan, and stated she was encouraged by what she saw in Afghanistan.

During the trip, auditors told McCaskill oversight agencies are working more collaboratively, ensuring contracts are properly scoped and are not duplicative.

According to Sen. McCaskill, she was encouraged by “indications” that training is being conducted for auditors, contract managers and others with procurement oversight. What those indications entail is not specified. As Sen. McCaskill is a former auditor, I fear those “indications” she was privy too may seem reasonable to her, but may not be adequate for the type of responsibilities and workload these contract personnel will be undertaking.

McCaskill also focused the contracting oversight portion of her trip on the Commander's Emergency Response Program (CERP) funds – which are a type of micro-lending program for small scale projects. She went on to say that most projects under CERP were in the $20,000 range, but now about half the programs cost $500,000 or more. This is a troubling development, as it seems that larger contracts are being awarded under CERP, presumably as a work around to bypass procurement processes in the name of speed. The Senator stated that she will further investigate CERP funds and how they are being used when she returns to Washington, and I hope she lives up to that commitment. CERP is also referred to as “Walking Around Money,” and I believe waste, fraud, and abuse seem to be inevitable with this program as I do not know anybody that walks around with $500,000 in their wallets.

Unfortunately, little progress has been made with monitoring of U.S. Agency for International Development contracts for reconstruction, humanitarian and other development work in Afghanistan, according to the Senator:

…"There's an awful lot of oversight being done there by e-mail because the work is done outside the wire," McCaskill said. "The work is being done in places government officials cannot easily get to, to oversee them."…

Oversight done via email? I’m all for using technology to increase procurement efficiency, but that seems to be taking things a bit too far.