VA contracting officers may face penalty for poor recordkeeping

Acquisition employees required to enter contracting data but often fail to enter it in full or in part

A senior Veterans Affairs Department official plans to propose a penalty for contracting officers if they don't file contracting information into VA's departmentwide database, the official said April 13.

Under a new proposal, contracting officers could be docked on their annual employee performance reviews for failing to enter information into the VA’s Electronic Contract Management System, Glenn Haggstrom, executive director of VA’s Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, told the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’ Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Haggstrom said he intends to bring the proposal to VA's senior procurement council soon for further discussions.

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The failure to record required information isn't all on contracting officers. Haggstrom and other senior acquisition officials at the VA pointed to management officials and the department's senior executives as having a heavy responsibility to get their employees to enter data into the system. (Get hearing testimony.)

Acquisition employees are required to enter contracting data into the records management system, but many times employees have failed, department oversight officials also said during the hearing.

Belinda Finn, assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations at the VA, said that if used as intended, the management system could reduce costs, integrate the procurement process, ease the workload on employees, and improve communications about what’s happening in the procurement offices.

However, “we continue to see low levels of compliance associated with VA contracting staff using this system and when the system is used, the information in the system is incomplete,” Finn said.

In a 2009 IG report on the system’s usage, officials recorded just over 17 percent of procurement actions -- or 1,150 -- worth roughly $319 million. Meanwhile, officials failed to record 83 percent, or 5,600 actions worth $1.4 billion, Finn said.

Those statistics put the auditors and the IG's office in a bind.

“You can’t manage what you don’t know about,” Finn said.

Several subcommittee members questioned VA officials about employee penalties for not using a mandated system.

"That's some kind of penalty," Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) said of Haggstrom's proposal. But, he added, "Firing is another penalty."

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Thu, May 23, 2013

As a Contracting Officer myself, I find it very sad and costly state of affairs to find that COs and CSs in other Federal agencies face the same daily uphill battles with incompetent management and antiquated systems as I do. I have worked for two different Federal agencies and the common denominator between them was ineffective leadership who have been hanging to their Federal gigs for decades. In the private sector, they could not get a job flipping burgers. I recommend that if the folks in DC, specifically you Mr. O, want to see things improve, mandate MANDATORY retirement at 25 years service.) This action would save the government hundreds of millions of dollars each year and enable Federal agencies to get the funds they need to work at full strength. I have never heard of someone who works in contracts say that they are not short staffed and buried with the number of contract actions that they have to process. This action would also facilitate greater opportunities for upward advancement for younger, better educated and smarter staffers to move up the ranks. There is a guy where I worked for the Navy who has been and continues to be employed by the Federal government since he enlisted in the Navy.... in 1943! This is a fact. I have found that there is a direct correlation between the number of years of service and general uselessness of senior staff. Cutting the dead wood is the solution, but no politicians have the stones to propose it. As for the Congressional Representative from CA, dude, you haven't got the first clue about contracting or the acquisition process so shut your trap!

Fri, Apr 13, 2012 Alita Maryland

I am a service-connected veteran who was authorized for the Home Improvements and Structural Alterations (HISA) grant from the VA on 13 March 2012; a process I started in August 2011. The alteration to my home was completed in less than 2 weeks. Now I want to have my contractor paid. The time lag to having the grant approved was due to my difficulty with finding a contractor willing to wait for payment until the work was completed. I saw no less than 25 contractors who said "No", because they did not want to work with the VA because of this very issue; that, and waiting months to receive payment. I was persistent, yet I wonder how many other disabled veterans out there throw their hands up in frustration. I guess I am going to have to find out the person who is processing this paperwork in AUSTIN TEXAS to have my contractor paid. I have Multiple Sclerosis and have to conserve my energy as much as possible. Yet I see no other option than to follow this up myself. It would help if I or the contractor were kept informed; yet there was nothing but silence. I live in Maryland/DC area; the hub of government, and the payment is processed in TEXAS? People talk about supporting the troops, yet it is difficult to find a person willing to walk the walk and support those who need it. Sounds like a broken system, and as the veteran who now has a completed alteration to her home, I feel compelled to go the extra mile to have my contractor paid. He was one lone contractor willing to finance a project up front. I could not even get veteran-owned contractors to do the work. I wonder what this says?

Thu, Apr 21, 2011 John Player Houston

Using the Electronic Contract Management System (eCMS) is not easy, nor is it efficient. For example, in addition to the paper contract file we are required to establish, the Contract Specialist or Contracting Officer has to scan and upload each of those paper documents to eCMS. This is extremely time consuming. If the system does save money, as Belinda Finn states, I would like for her to explain how. I have never seen a situation where duplication of efforts (the scanning and uploading of documents) saves money for anyone. If the VA was serious about implementing this system they would eliminate the requirement for a paper-based contract file and allow the Contract Special/Contracting Officer to create contract files solely through eCMS. Above all these issues, the system is grossly inefficient. It takes a long time to create a solicitation using the eCMS system - much longer that if I created it myself in Microsoft Word. Additionally, the format of the document it creates is not presentable for contractors. In many instances, I have to spend a great deal of time re-formatting the solicitation or contract created by the system just so that it represents a professional document. Overall, eCMS is simply too inefficient to be considered a productive part of the Contract Specialist/Contracting Officer environment.

Mon, Apr 18, 2011

Sadly, the reason ECMS has failed in VISN 16 is because of extremely poor planning by management(specifically the Contract Management Officer and the Deputy Contract Management Officers)who delayed implementation until they had not choice. Additionally, these managers don't have have a clue on how to properly input into the system but expect poorly trained employees to input contracts or else.

Mon, Apr 18, 2011

Before holding Contracting Officers responsible for poor record keeping, Leaders need to have them properly trained and give them the proper tools to do their job. COs are expected to get requirements off of the desk in a short time while having to work with atiquated and slow systems. We are suppose to be paperless, but not all stations have the tools to do this. We should have up-to-date computer systems with dual monitors & scanners. Every station is different when it comes to the IT tools to do the job. It appears that the leaders don't care about the COs or the frustrations that they are dealing with. Provide the COs with the propers tools and training and they would stick around longer. Instead of penalizing us, we should be awarded for the efforts that we are putting forward with the tools that we are working with. The ones that should be penalized for putting their employees through hell should be the leadership. We would be able to get more done if we didn't have to douplicate our work and we had the proper tools to do the job.

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