Recovery Act comes before other contracting work

Experts expect agencies to do less oversight of non-Recovery Act awards because of the increased workload associated with stimulus spending.

Although Obama administration officials have been emphasizing contractor and program oversight, spending the stimulus money might have overtaken those imperatives at agencies’ acquisition offices, according to a new report.

In a survey by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, contracting officials at 29 departments and agencies most frequently predicted that they would have to delay work on the other priorities to focus on projects funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act because of the additional workload they have caused.

“The oversight and monitoring of awards—especially non-Recovery Act contracts and grants—are expected to decline, as many agencies attempt to implement Recovery Act requirements while carrying out their ongoing programs and operations,” according to the board, which released the report this week.

To complete the Recovery Act work on time, agencies are reprioritizing workloads, hiring additional employees, and shifting or re-assigning personnel, the report states.

Forty-five percent of respondents at large agencies said they have adequate staffing for the additional work, but it would have an impact on non-Recovery Act work. Large agencies include the Defense, Health and Human Services, and Interior departments, which have expended the most resources on awarding stimulus funds.

At smaller agencies, 52 percent of respondents said they have adequate staff, but the extra work would affect other contracting work.

However, the report points out that many more respondents at large agencies than small ones said their staffing levels were inadequate for the extra work — 41 percent versus 23 percent.

Agencies have more than $787 billion to spend under the Recovery Act, which was passed in February 2009.

The board also reported that the stimulus spending has already increased employees’ work hours and forced agencies to pull employees from other departments to help the acquisition staff.

Agencies are devoting more full-time employees to Recovery Act contracts and grants, the report states, and those numbers are expected to increase by more than 125 percent by summer 2010—from about 1,800 to more than 4,100 employees.

In its recommendations to agencies, the board urged officials to review their acquisition employees’ certifications. According to the survey, 97 percent of contracting officers are certified. However, only three-quarters of contracting officer’s representatives and contracting officer’s technical representatives are certified, and only a third of contract program managers have appropriate certification.

Civilian agencies only require certification for employees who work on major acquisitions that could obligate more than $500,000 annually or are highly visible. By contrast, DOD said 94 percent of the contracting officers it has assigned to Recovery Act awards are certified. However, DOD has no departmentwide certification program for its contracting officer’s representatives, 800 of whom are assigned to manage Recovery Act contracts, the report states.

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