Buzz of the Week

A costly $20,000 contract

One early lesson all feds learn is you don’t want to end up on the front page of the Washington Post. Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration, learned that lesson the hard way Jan. 19.

But that rule may not be the only one she violated. The Washington Post story “GSA Chief Scrutinized For Deal With Friend” states that both the GSA inspector general and the Justice Department are investigating a $20,000 contract that GSA planned to award to “a division of her friend’s public relations firm…for a 24-page report promoting the GSA’s use of minority- and woman-owned businesses.”

In the Post story, Doan said the contract was a mistake.

“I thought I was moving this along,” she told the Post. “I was immediately informed that I wasn’t necessarily moving it along in the way that was best for it. So at which point they canceled it, life went on, no money exchanged hands, no contract exchanged hands.”

Many observers suggest that this probably is a case of misjudgment rather than corruption. After all, it was only a $20,000 contract. But it is a concern, nevertheless. In general, no-bid contracts are rife with potential questions. Most procurement experts advise against doing them. But beyond that, the words “no-bid” and “friend’s company” should never appear in the same sentence. If they do, it should set off not only red flags but fireworks.

In our experience with Doan, she clearly wants to get things done. That has led to a bullishness that doesn’t always work well in government. People may talk about running government like a business. But for better or worse, it just doesn’t work that way.

In the end, this could become the most expensive $20,000 that GSA didn’t spend.


The Buzz contenders

#2: Talkin’ Networx (finally)
Elsewhere on the General Services Administration front…Networx. First the good news: In late December, the Treasury Department agreed to dump its controversial Treasury Communications Enterprise contract and use GSA’s Networx contract instead. Now the bad news: Word about Treasury’s price break leaked out, and officials at other agencies wonder how they can get in on the deal. After remaining silent for two weeks, GSA officials finally addressed the question, insisting that the deal is so limited that other agencies won’t be looking for the same terms. Stay tuned: This may be a recurring topic.

#3: Announcing USA.gov
FirstGov.gov is soooo 2000. GSA has rechristened the government Web portal USA.gov, saying it is a more recognizable name. The public apparently voted for the change via Google. Last year, more than 600,000 people typed in “usa.gov” when searching for government information.

#4: The SARA panel gets reviewed

Commission reports usually end up on a shelf somewhere, never to be seen again. That won’t happen with the Acquisition Advisory Panel’s report — at least not yet. In November 2006, when his party was still in the majority, Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) asked the Government Accountability Office to review the panel’s report in hopes that it could serve as a starting point for further discussions about government procurement. But this GAO report might also end up on a shelf if House Democrats have their own procurement plans in mind.

#5: Funding telework
Many government executives are becoming more comfortable with the concept of telework, but some concerns still linger. GAO has addressed one such concern by saying that the government can pay for a teleworker’s high-speed Internet at home. In a case involving the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, GAO said the agency can pay those costs but should closely oversee the program to protect against any “private misuse.”

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