DHS officials skirted procurement ethics rules, IG says

Actions created 'appearance of impropriety'

Staff members and officials at the Homeland Security Department’s Science and Technology Directorate engaged in improper actions in four procurements in 2007 but stopped short of violating any ethics rules, according to a new report from DHS Inspector General Richard Skinner.

In one case, a senior official there started a procurement based on a concept marketed by one of his business acquaintances interested in bidding on the work — and the official even named the project after the acquaintance, the report said.

In another case, two senior officials met “unwittingly” with a representative of a company that had submitted a proposal to an open Broad Agency Announcement, and during the meeting, the representatives presented information related to their proposal, according to the report released July 28. However, the company received no competitive advantage because it was dropped from the competition for other reasons, Skinner wrote.

The federal executives involved did not violate any ethical rules, the IG said. However, the actions did create an appearance of impropriety, the report concluded.

“Circumstances surrounding four procurements created an appearance that staff members intentionally directed funding to specific acquaintances, though further review indicated that S&T staff did not violate conflict of interest or other ethical rules,” the report said.

In several cases, it appeared that executives were favoring industry executives with whom they were familiar, but when the problems were detected, the federal agency modified procedures to maintain the integrity of the procurements, the IG said.

“These situations indicate the need for better understanding of or regard for procurement standards,” Skinner wrote. “The rules for communicating during the procurement process were established to prevent competitors from gaining an unfair advantage and ensure that the government reaps the benefits of competition. S&T should train its staff in competitive procurement and ethical rules, and S&T management must model and enforce those rules.”

Skinner did not name individuals or companies in the report.

The directorate's top official said he generally agreed with the findings and with the recommendations for improvement. “I believe the draft report fairly describes the facts within the scope of the review…. I agree with the recommendations,” Bradley Buswell, acting undersecretary for science and technology, wrote in response to the IG.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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