VA official explains decision to halt reverse auctions

Jan Frye says reverse auctions seem to have allowed contracting officers to take a lax approach to their work.

Close to two months after the Veterans Affairs Department ordered its Veterans Health Administration contracting offices to halt reverse auctions until further notice, the agency’s senior acquisition shed some light on why he made the decision.

“I’m not against reverse auctions, but I’m concerned that sometimes we don’t know what we’re doing when we set about to do reverse auctions,” Jan Frye, deputy assistant secretary at VA’s Office of Acquisition and Logistics, said in a keynote at the April 26 Coalition for Government Procurement 2012 Spring Conference

In a March 3 memo, Frye stated that reverse auctioning was disrupting the agency’s supply chain, leading to complaints from VA suppliers. His main concern was that contracting officers depended too much on FedBid, the service provider for reverse auctioning, without appropriate oversight.

“When you hire a firm to tell you what you’ve got to do, aren’t we, the government, supposed to know what we’re supposed to do?” he said. “We need to have contracting officers who have heads screwed on right, who understand what their responsibilities are and not dump it in the lap of a third party.”

VA was the first agency to take a critical look at reverse auctions, uncovering how some contracting officers were “dumping their work in the lap of third-party providers,” Frye said.

“We looked at 25 files and 23 of them were vastly inefficient,” he said. “Half of them didn’t even have any market research. The quality of market research of the other half was very questionable.”

Frye told the conference attendees his decision to stop reverse auctioning immediately drew attention. “The word was on the Hill, we had lobbying groups after me, we had congressmen calling me, senators calling – it was unbelievable,” he said.

The personal attacks also began, Frye said, noting how transcripts from Capitol Hill discussing his decision showed that senators were “very, very unkind to me.”

“I decided a long time ago that if you want a friend in Washington, get a dog,” he joked. “And I’ve got two of them.”

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