By Anne Armstrong
No one likes auditors. For years, companies have complained about intrusive GSA audits. When I was at CIT, state auditors would show up and sit in our conference room for weeks going over every piece of paper. It’s the nature of the activity that seems to create tension and distrust.
But the Defense Contract Audit Agency has risen to a new level of infamy. After two withering GAO reports on its performance, the director was reassigned to a different job in the Defense Department comptroller’s office. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing and blasted the organization’s ability to ferret out waste, fraud and abuse.
Meanwhile, industry is complaining about the exact opposite. We have heard horror stories from companies about audits that go back years and measure seemingly insignificant details instead of performance and results. We have read the stories of no-bid contracts that lead to massive overcharges.
We know DCAA is understaffed and overworked. But the solution to this mismatch is not to focus on the details of the process but rather on the final product. If the agency is pleased with the result, that should be at least some indication of success.
Distrust of contractors is a particularly disturbing byproduct of those investigations. Everyone seems to forget that many of the employees at the contracting companies were once feds. They don’t leave the government and suddenly become crooks. Most contractors still believe in and work for the mission of the agency.
Audits will remain an important protection for the taxpayer, but it’s hard to see this environment improving when industry is screaming and passing the costs of these audits on to the customer, Congress is complaining that not enough crooks have been found, and DCAA remains understaffed.
Posted on Nov 05, 2009 at 9:27 AM4 comments
For many people, this is a favorite time of year in Washington. The weather is beautiful. Kids are back in school. It’s the beginning of many new projects. Holidays are around the corner.
It is one of my least favorite because we are once again in Continuing Resolution hell.
In all but three of the last 30 years, Congress has failed to pass a budget to fund the federal government by the beginning of its new fiscal year, which we all know starts Oct. 1. Some years, it is politically correct to fund DOD or Homeland Security, and they are the exceptions that are funded. But, no surprise, Congress never fails to fund itself. This year, the legislative branch bill was the only appropriations bill passed.
I just cannot understand why no one is upset. Why do the American people put up with a group of people that cannot perform its most basic function?
If one’s job is to sweep the sidewalk, it is not appropriate to skip that and say that the trees need pruning. But that’s what Congress appears to do year after year.
As you can tell, I foam at the mouth over this repeated failure to perform.
Actions have consequences. Continuing resolutions have negative effects on the agencies that have to live with them. Don’t take my word for it. GAO just published a report detailing the many effects living under a continuing resolution has for the agencies. For the full report, see Continuing Resolutions: Uncertainty Limited Management Options and Increased Workload in Selected Agencies (Government Accountability Office, 9/24/2009).
So according to the GAO, most agencies operate under a CR for part of the year. Startling is the fact that most agencies spend between 60 and 90 days under the CR. One third of the fiscal year, they are limited in how they spend funds, whether they can start new projects and how they can fund grants.
Then starting in the spring, Congress hauls all the execs up to Capitol Hill to explain why there are delays in projects.
If this were a movie, I would shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not to take it anymore.”
The scarier part is, the public doesn’t seem to care. We are fighting about public options in health care, but not whether the Congress is performing its most basic function.
Where is the appropriations tea party?
What about the notion that you only get August off if the appropriations bills are passed?
Posted on Oct 06, 2009 at 6:59 PM6 comments
Two gatherings last week prompted similar disturbing questions about the current state of relations between government and industry. It wasn’t that long ago when all the major conferences had the word “partnership” in the theme. IAC named its professional development program, The Partners Program. The Clinger Cohen approach to procurement reform rested on the assumption of a trusted partnership.
Nick Wakeman has described in his blog some of the industry concerns that surfaced at a dinner to discuss how relationships between government and industry have changed.
On the same evening, the Government Marketing Forum hosted a panel discussion of how the new ethics rules have changed how companies market to government and how they interact.
One of the themes from both meetings is that there is a great deal of confusion about what kinds of conversations are permitted. Faced with that, government folks either refuse to have meetings or include their legal team. Industry responds by hiring more lawyers and ethics professionals. Large integrators may have up to 80 or more ethics people to vet every request. Both sides ratchet up proof of compliance.
The unintended effect of all the new rules designed to provide transparency and openness has been to shut down conversation. I may be naïve, but I still believe that the more industry understands about what government is trying to accomplish, the better the proposals and outcomes will be.
But underlying all the reporting changes is a more fundamental shift -- a loss of trust on both sides. That will be far more difficult to change. It will take some dynamic leadership and risk takers on both sides to restore.
Posted on Sep 21, 2009 at 6:59 PM0 comments
There has been a great deal of buzz about the new media, especially from this administration, which has included them in press conferences and treated them as equal members of the press corps.
The public, in general, has indicated that it does not value the role journalists have traditionally played of verifying the accuracy of information in a story. (Hope I do not sound old and bitter.) We all remember Woodward and Bernstein needing two sources to run with a story. The new view is that the Web is self-policing and the wisdom of crowds will eventually win out.
As a result, we have a whole new class of journalists -- the bloggers, who do not subscribe to the need to verify before publishing, but who believe if they publish and it is incorrect, some one will correct it -- the Wikipedia approach to news.
Today, we had an interesting example of the issues that approach creates. John Dvorak, a former editor of PC Magazine and a well known blogger, posted an entry questioning the credentials and experience of Vivek Kundra, CIO of the White House.
Links to the blog post started flying around the industry. I got several emails with it. When our editorial folks tried to get a comment from the White House or OMB, they were told the administration talked with the bloggers to “set the record straight” in the blogosphere, but they wanted to talk FCW out of doing the story because “you’re a real news organization.”
The OMB communications person said AP, the Washington Post and others had been calling, and that they agreed that there was no story. Mission accomplished from a PR point of view.
FCW’s editor, David Rapp told the OMB spokesman that it was their quotes to the blog Gigaom that legitimized the story.
We checked it out. The allegations were false. But we can’t ignore something that is being circulated widely in the community. We had to write the story and explain the accusations and the facts.
I was fascinated in the different ways the White House treats the different media.
About the blog post, which is too long, poorly edited and has been corrected after everyone else checked the University of Maryland credentials, I thought it was interesting that Dvorak thinks working in industry provides experience and credentials, but working in state and local government does not.
From my experience, I can assure him, there is lots to learn in state government and you earn plenty of battle scars. What an interesting parochial point of view.
But he successfully got all of us to do the checking of the facts. So maybe it is a brave new world.
Posted on Aug 14, 2009 at 6:59 PM6 comments
The hardest part of writing a blog is finding the time to actually write it.
While I know that no one cares about my schedule, I just want to acknowledge that I understand that I need to update it regularly. I promise to be better.
So, a lot happened while I was on the other coast. I had this whole blog post about cyber security ready and then everyone quit. I kept asking why no one wanted this job and the answer I kept hearing is this is the job with a target on one’s back. No matter how good one is or what one does, someone one, somewhere, will hack into a network. The cyber czar will be the poster child for the latest cyber disaster.
If this person knows anything about cyber security, there are many more people who will pay them much more money at less risk. That leaves patriots and the-already-rich as candidates. I keep hearing names in both categories so maybe it will happen, but there seems to be a lot of infighting about this job.
I don’t know how to slide this fact in, but this is what happened to government 10 years ago when they discovered they couldn’t afford IT people. This is how we discovered outsourcing.
I am dying to see how the new insourcing plan works.
Heard Dave McClure has left Gartner for a government job. Can’t flush out what that job is. If you know, please tell me. Dave has a distinguished GAO career, plus time in industry. I have ideas that I would put some money on, but no hard evidence or even a good rumor.
Posted on Aug 12, 2009 at 6:59 PM0 comments