Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Policy Reviews Will Not Improve Government Procurement

As part of the continuing push by the Administration to reduce the amount of redundancy and to cut red tape through a review of existing federal regulations, agencies recently announced their final plans that describe what they will begin to consider as possible reforms to current regulations to execute on the President’s Executive Order.

The plans look at variety of issues, including increasing competition, payments to small businesses, and vendor communications with government. In addition, the final plan for regulatory reviews also includes conflicts of interest, how to properly review a company’s past performances, and working with the Small Business Administration to update rules for using set-aside contracts and small business subcontracting plans.

Although the regulatory review plans are long overdue, and definitely needed, I am not sure the fundamental issues at the heart of the problems are regulatory in nature.

In July, the Department of Defense (DOD) proposed changes to the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement’s rules on how DOD gets a fair or reasonable price from a company when only one-bid is received. Under the proposed new rules, Contracting Officers would have to re-compete the solicitation for at least another 30 days, and would have to determine prices to be reasonable through price or cost analysis or they can enter negotiations with the company that made the bid. However, the proposed regulatory change does not even discuss a comprehensive review of requirements or acquisition strategy, which more than likely led to the one-bid in the first place.

Regulatory reviews also plan to look at FAR 15, and regulatory obstacles to vendor communications. In fact, the regulations are clear on best practices and what is permissible prior to RFP release, even though it is not getting done. Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), plans to discuss the rules about communications, and provide more guidance via a proposed memo by the end of 2011.

This memo would be a continuation of the OFPP's Myth Busters Campaign that discusses the misconceptions about government and industry communications. The Better Government IT initiative was created to help in this effort, but it is through this crowdsourcing that best practices can be reviewed, not through a review of regulations.

Mandating the use of current policy and regulations does not seem to be a viable option for ensuring government executes on these issues. It is through concerted leadership to execute existing policy and actively solicit best practices that we can expect to see effective change.

Eliminating burdesome policies and regualtions that create barriers to entry and create costs to government and industry would be welcome, but I am not sure this policy review will be as productive as might expected by its proponents.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

MythBusters Call For Participation

Continuing the ongoing campaign to improve government and industry relations through the "Mythbusters" initiatives, the American Council for Technology (ACT) - Industry Advisory Council (IAC) has put up an initial list for comment and expansion to deliver on finding the "Top Ten."

Please visit the BetterGovernmentIT.org site to offer your comments and suggestions, and to vote on the top ten vendor-friendly strategies. The site will be active until 9/9! Help us help Government – visit bettergovernmentit.org and provide your input!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Your Taxpayer Dollar$ at Work: Volume II

Last year I started a series to highlight outrageous cases of waste, fraud, and abuse by the federal government. In the current environment of complete political theatre and legislative dysfunction leading to budget crises, debt ceilings, and continuous resolutions, I can probably write a book with so much material. However, I wanted to focus on a truly outrageous case of fraud and waste that is shocking, even when we succumb to the worst stereotypical fears of our government.

According to a recent inspector general report at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), $540 million dollars annually worth of business is being awarded to companies that fail to meet eligibility requirements for veteran owned small businesses or service-disabled veteran owned small businesses. The report stated these results were extrapolated from audit results, which assumes $540 million, and could add up to $2.5 billion over the next 5 years. The report further estimates that factoring out ineligible businesses, the VA only awarded 12 percent of its procurement dollars to actual veteran owned small businesses (VOSBs) and 10 percent to service disabled veteran owned businesses (SDVOSBs), as opposed to the 23 and 20 percent it said it did during fiscal 2010. Half a billion in estimated fraud? Give me a break.

The main culprit, not surprisingly, is the lack of accountability, according to testimony before the House Veterans Affairs' subcommittee on oversight and investigations by Belinda Finn, assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations at the VA OIG.

…Ineligible businesses received awards because VA's office of small and disadvantaged business utilization was not thoroughly reviewing business documentation and performing site visits to verify the veteran-owned status, said Finn. The OIG also found that contracting officers did not always check VA's enterprise veterans database, business size classification codes, or properly assess subcontracting and partnering agreements…

Once again the lack of resources and strain on the acquisition workforce was blamed, although this is a false argument. There is absolutely no excuse for not verifying eligibility of a firm for these types of set-aside programs, not to mention the subcontracting and partnering agreements. Where is the protection of the public’s trust?

Also of note is that only 30% of service disabled veteran contracts are with the VA, so this is a widespread issue. Obviously unethical firms and individuals are taking advantage of the lack of oversight, but there is no reason why VOSBs and SDVOSBs should be self-certifications. These programs should have formal certification processes similar to 8(a).

Although the VA has verification programs in place through its Center for Veteran Enterprise, it is woefully inadequate and cumbersome. You need your DD-214, adjudication letter from the VA (for SDVOSB), and corporate documentation showing 51% ownership and control. That is it. The current document requests are intrusive, and privacy is a risk. Explain to me how requiring 14 voided checks proves I am eligible?

Taxpayers are at risk in this program, and I hope the government, especially at the VA, understand the depths of this massive fraud being per perpetrated on taxpayers and veterans.