NASA centers' sole-sourcing flagged

"Audit of Multiple-award Contracts at NASA"

Two NASA centers frequently failed to fully compete task orders under multiple-award contracts, an audit by the NASA inspector general found.

Although they did not violate any laws, the centers did not follow regulatory requirements and used multiple-award contracts to direct business to specific vendors, the NASA IG reported.

The report, "Audit of Multiple-Award Contracts," found that 51 of 104 contracts that Johnson Space Center and Langley Research Center issued were sole-source orders made without competition.

"The agency did not receive the benefits of competitive bids and may be paying more for goods and services than necessary," according to the report, which is dated Sept. 28 but was released Oct. 19.

The report comes on the heels of a Defense Department IG report that showed many purchases for services are still going uncontested despite continued warnings from lawmakers that the problems could result in limitations being put on the procurement reforms.

The NASA IG report also comes as a House/Senate conference committee is discussing two provisions of the DOD fiscal 2002 authorization bill that seek to curtail sole-source buys. Section 803 of the Senate's version of the Defense authorization bill (S. 1416) would require DOD contracting officers to compete all task orders of $50,000 or more among all eligible schedule contract vendors.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation states that contracting officers must avoid situations in which contractors specialize exclusively in a statement of work, thereby creating the likelihood that orders will be awarded to a specific vendor.

Although there may be reasons for a sole-source award, "only in rare circumstances should a contractor receive a sole-source order that meets the FAR exceptions," the NASA IG report states. "The contractors were not given a fair opportunity to be considered for the 48 sole-source orders [that did not meet FAR exception requirements]."

The NASA IG recommends that NASA management establish specific competition goals for multiple-award contracts. Furthermore, the IG suggested that directors at Langley and Johnson direct contracting officers to "fairly consider all contractors who submit bids for orders under multiple-award contracts."

NASA procurement officials, in response to the IG report, said that they agreed with the recommendations, but that the orders cited in the report were not subjected to competition because they represent an "effort that was begun, but not completed, on prior contracts."

To subject these orders to fair competition would have "potentially amounted to meaningless competitions since the initial contractor would have had an unfair competitive advantage due to their prior work," they said.

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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