Lawmakers: Poor policies enable contractor performance to go unchecked

Some vendors have continued to win government contracts despite a history of poor performance partly because of incomplete performance records systems, a lack of coordination among individual agencies and ambiguous eligibility standards, lawmakers and agency investigators said.

“There are gross inconsistencies in how people want to put their information into these systems,” Richard Skinner, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general, told lawmakers today. “It’s not so much the firewalls — it’s the discipline, the standards, the guidelines to ensure that certain basic information, in fact, is included.”

Skinner was part of a panel called before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s Government Management, Organization and Procurement Subcommittee to testify on whether poorly performing contractors continued to win agency contracts.

“As we look at some of the contractors that we know had historic problems, we found nothing in these systems from across the government saying that they ever had a problem with these contractors, and we in fact knew that there were problems,” Skinner said.

DHS and the Energy Department were singled out for maintaining agreements with Wackenhut Services and Bechtel Group, respectively. Both companies reportedly failed to fulfill crucial parts of their contracts.

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), the subcommittee’s chairman, said in his opening statement that although the Government Accountability Office said Bechtel’s poor performance caused prices to skyrocket at DOE’s Hanford, Wash., site, the agency still hired the company to help secure the Los Alamos National Laboratory. He also questioned how Bechtel won a second contract to install and maintain trailers in the Hurricane Katrina-affected Gulf Coast region after it performed poorly on its initial no-bid contract.

Wackenhut reportedly mismanaged a DHS security contract to guard the department’s headquarters, but DHS hired the company to work with Border Patrol anyway. Wackenhut also falsified security records and sabotaged security drills at the DOE Oak Ridge nuclear site, Towns said.

“When I was in school and you were caught cheating on a test, your score was killed, you flunked,” Towns said. “It seems that seventh-graders are held to higher standard than nuclear security contractors.”

Towns and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) recently introduced the Contractors and Federal Spending Accountability Act to create a comprehensive database to monitor the federal procurement system.

Maloney said a set of metrics is needed. “It would remove the intuition; you would have indicators there,” she said at the hearing.

Elaine Duke, DHS’ chief procurement officer, said that although she was not sure how many databases existed to track contractors’ performance, DHS relied on three: Dun and Bradstreet for financial history, Past Performance Information Retrieval System to view agency reviews, and a list of contractors that have been suspended or disbarred.

She added that no centralized system to access IG reports, GAO reports or legal measures brought against companies exists.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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