Recovery Act work strains SBA acquisition staff

SBA's IG raises concerns about the agency's contracting shop shrinking even as the work is growing

The Small Business Administration is putting together a plan to temporarily assemble enough acquisition employees to carry out the agency's usual contracting work as well as spending its Recovery Act work, according to a new memo.

SBA intends to add five extra private-sector employees to support its acquisition staff, with two of them dealing solely with Recovery Act contracting, Darryl Hairston, associate administrator of SBA’s Office of Management and Administration, wrote in a memo posted online April 13.

“Ensuring the proper oversight of the acquisition activity and its personnel is a critical function,” Hairston wrote.

Hairston wrote in response to the SBA inspector general’s concerns about overseeing acquisition work, specifically the demands on overseeing Recovery Act spending.

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Debra Ritt, SBA’s associate inspector general for auditing, raised concerns in an April 9 memo about the number of SBA’s contracting employees handling a greatly increased workload due to Recovery Act contracts. Ritt’s concerns align with a theme resonating among the federal watchdog community.

SBA’s contracting staff has decreased as work increased, and, what’s more, SBA lacks strong leadership in its contracting office.

Ritt noted that since November, SBA has not had an Office of Business Operations director, a position that is also intended to be the agency’s senior procurement executive. Adding to the turmoil, the acting director does not have a great deal of contract knowledge to oversee contracts to avoid mismanagement, according to Ritt’s memo.

SBA’s contracting shop has last dropped from 13 employees in June 2009 to seven in February. Meanwhile the amount of work has grown significantly. In June SBA had awarded four contracts with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and processed 390 contract actions that included no stimulus funds. By February though, SBA had awarded 25 more Recovery Act contracts and processed 740 other contract actions, Ritt wrote.

“Consequently, SBA will not be able to provide heightened management attention of Recovery Act contracts, as required by [the Office of Management and Budget], or be able to effectively oversee other contracting activity,” Ritt wrote in the memo.

Hairston said he agrees with the IG's concerns and is working on building up its acquisition staff and improve its employees' skills to do the core operations.


About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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