ITOP contract draws scrutiny

DOT's Information Technology Omnibus Procurement

The Transportation Department's $10 billion governmentwide information technology contract could get a "thorough review" by the agency's inspector general under a provision included in the House version of the DOT spending bill.

The provision must still make it through the Senate before it becomes law.

The short paragraph in the House Appropriations Committee's report questions the necessity of the Information Technology Omnibus Procurement (ITOP) governmentwide acquisition contract. "The committee is concerned that this vehicle is so broad and flexible that it could be used by DOT agencies to evade departmental oversight or congressional scrutiny," according to the committee's report.

"Furthermore, it is not clear why DOT agencies...use this type of contract when they have contract professionals in-house who perform similar work," the committee report states.

"The committee is also unsure whether this fits the main mission of the [Transportation Administrative Service Center], which is to provide common administrative services to the department," the report states.

Therefore, the bill asks the Transportation IG to conduct a review of ITOP and submit a report by Feb. 15, 2002.

"We view this as an opportunity" to educate lawmakers about the role and benefits of the ITOP program, said ITOP program manager Rebecca West.

Some observers were surprised by the focus on ITOP, which is one of the largest and most successful governmentwide acquisition contracts and is seen as one of the better-managed programs.

"We just generally think they do a good job," said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. and a former senior procurement official at the Air Force.

Industry groups were less surprised, however, largely because significant questions have surfaced about multiple-award contracts.

Lawmakers have voiced concerns about the potential for agencies to use specific vendors and avoid competition requirements by using multiple-award contracts.

Vendors have long-standing qualms about the number of GWACs. They argue that the abundance of such contracts creates inefficiencies by forcing companies to compete on scores of vehicles, some of which are not used often.

Increasingly, multiple-award contracts "are called on to show their worth and value," said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington, D.C., industry group. "I think it is appropriate to look at all of them," he said.

But Steve Kelman, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said this move could backfire. "If the goal of this congressional committee is to make agencies more bureaucratic, these kinds of calls for IG reports are a good way to do that," he said.

But he also said that federal agencies that avoid competition provisions because they feel the need to award a contract quickly might be doing long-term damage to the procurement reforms implemented in recent years.

Agencies can now award a contract within weeks rather than months as a result of those changes. But avoiding competition provisions merely to save an additional week before awarding a contract is not good for government, he said.

"If the government can't do a better job of making sure we get the competition, at some point Congress is going to come in and intervene," said Kelman, a professor of public management at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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