Can interagency contracting regain a good rep?
The removal of interagency contracting from GAO's high-risk list 'changes the dynamic of the environment,' said Coalition for Government Procurement President Roger Waldron.
Could interagency contracting make a comeback? Now that it's no longer on the Government Accountability Office's High Risk List, experts say it could return to play an instrumental part in furthering a cultural shift in government procurement.
GAO removed the once-problematic area from its 2013 High Risk List. Interagency contracting had been on the list since 2005, after problems surfaced when defense officials in Iraq hired interrogators through an interagency contract that was intended for IT purchases. An investigation in 2004 revealed a system prone to misuse and carrying little liability for mistakes.
"This takes time, but it changes the dynamic of the environment" in acquisition, said Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement and a former senior General Services Administration acquisition official.
Interagency contracting, done well, leads to fewer duplicative contracts, Waldron said. Broadly defined, it refers to an agency using another agency's contract. According to the Federal Acquisition Regulation, it is "commonly conducted through indefinite-delivery contracts, such as task- and delivery-order contracts. The indefinite-delivery contracts used most frequently to support interagency acquisitions are Federal Supply Schedules (FSS), Governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs), and multi-agency contracts (MACs)."
The technique has languished for two main reasons. It had a bad reputation, being on the high-risk list, and agency officials are notoriously territorial, pursuing acquisition as if their agencies' requirements are unique, not suitable for sharing.
But more recently, agencies have shown an increasing willingness to use multiple-agency contracts, such as the GWACs and IDIQ contracts, said Bill Jaffe, senior vice president of TAPE, LLC.
"We've actually seen a much bigger move towards contract sharing, and there are some major GWACs being competed in the near term," Jaffe said. "And yes, I do see this as opening up the door to cross-agency collaboration."
The Homeland Security Department's recent $6 billion competition for its continuous monitoring-as-a-service IDIQ is an example of a lead agency preempting duplicative IT-based contracts, he added.
"I think vehicle shopping may become more prevalent in the new world fostered by the administration, with contracting officers being more important in the process, and incumbents seeking to avoid" competitions based largely on prices, he said.
In recent years, administration officials have established more management controls for governmentwide contracts and have set up a system of clear accountability when two parties agree to work together. From Congress, lawmakers also pushed reforms to the Federal Acquisition Regulation and also requiring agencies to write up a business case before launching a new interagency contract.
Gene Dodaro, comptroller general, said on Feb. 14 that interagency contracting still has its challenges.
"But we believe there are mechanisms in place that OMB and federal agencies can use to identify and address interagency contracting issues before they put the government at significant risk for waste, fraud, or abuse," he said in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
GAO is still watching closely to be sure agencies use interagency contracting properly, he said. "They may be off the list, but they're not out of sight," he told the committee.