OFPP tells agencies: Be prepared

New emergency acquisitions guide gives contracting officers the rules to follow

Emergency Acquisitions guidebook

What would happen if half of your agency’s workforce called in sick because of a viral outbreak? What if the crisis lasted for weeks? Paul Denett, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, recently posed those questions to a roomful of federal contracting officers.

The questions were relevant because a new government report reveals that federal and state governments are unprepared for an outbreak of avian flu. To help federal contracting organizations operate during an avian flu outbreak or other  crises, OFPP created a new guidebook titled “Emergency Acquisitions” to supplement agencies’ emergency guidelines and emergency acquisitions rules in the Federal Acquisition Regulation.

Denett said contracting officers should keep the guidebook close at hand to use in emergency situations. “Don’t wait until an event happens and then say, ‘Where did I put that guide?’ ” he advised contracting officers at the Federal Acquisition Institute’s Federal Acquisition Conference and Exposition in Washington June 19.

The guidebook lists contracting officers’ authorities in a crisis and the regulations that officers must follow. For example, the  contracting officers are exempt from the FAR’s competition requirements and can limit the amount of documentation normally required in justifying contract awards. The guide describes planning strategies, such as becoming familiar with precompeted contracts, and offers reminders about using small, local businesses when possible and negotiating firm, fixed-price contracts as often as feasible.

The guide also discusses flexibilities that employees can use during an emergency  to make quick purchases. “Agencies are fully authorized to innovate and use sound business judgment that is otherwise consistent with law and within the limits of their authority,” the guide states. “Agencies should not assume that a new approach is prohibited simply because the FAR does not specifically recognize it,” it adds.

OFPP and the Chief Acquisition Officers Council’s working group on emergency contracting developed the emergency acquisitions guide. It includes management and operational best practices from federal agencies’ responses to Hurricane Katrina, the Iraqi reconstruction effort and other crises.

Richard Reed, the General Services Administration’s chief emergency response and recovery officer, said agencies have a history of making contracting mistakes during crises, and they can benefit from being prepared. Contracting officers must understand how the landscape has changed  and not be limited during emergencies by conventional contracting methods, he said.

Meanwhile, a recent Government Accountability Office report said the Agriculture and Homeland Security departments are not prepared for an avian flu outbreak because they are tussling over their roles in an emergency. USDA is making plans ahead of time but, according to GAO, is leaving out DHS, a major player in disaster recovery. 
9 contracting rules for emergenciesThe Government Accountability Office and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction have identified a number of lessons learned and contracting best practices after reviewing the federal government’s role in Iraqi reconstruction and response to Hurricane Katrina. These practices are included in a new Emergency Acquisitions guide from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.
Best practices include:

  • Creating a scalable operations plan to adjust the level of capacity to match the need.
  • Designating a single unified contracting organization to coordinate all acquisition.
  • Defining, properly allocating and communicating essential contracting roles and responsibilities to all participating agencies.
  • Providing sufficient field-level contracting employees with the authority to do what is necessary.
  • Developing quickly deployable contracting and procurement systems and testing them.
  • Emphasizing smaller projects in the early phases of a contingency construction effort.
  • Generally avoiding using sole-source and limited-competition contracts.
  • Getting to know what contractors can handle and their prices .
  • Establishing vendor relationships before they are needed.
Source: Office of Federal Procurement Policy

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