VA national contracting oversight system inadequate, IG says

Federal auditors find gaps in use, functionality of electronic contract management system

The Veterans Affairs Department has required using an electronic contract management system that's inadequate, resulting in incomplete oversight, according to a report from the VA's Office of Inspector General.

The audit, released Sept. 2, evaluated national contracts awarded by the VA’s National Acquisition Center, which uses the Electronic Contract Management System, known as eCMS, to manage contract information. Generally, the center’s National Contract Service administered $4.3 billion worth of acquisitions from Oct. 1, 2009, to April 5, 2010, the IG said.

However, the eCMS system is underused and inadequate for oversight, Belinda Finn, assistant IG for audits and evaluation, concluded in the report.

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The VA’s Office of Acquisition and Logistics “did not ensure eCMS capabilities adequately supported National Acquisition Center operations,” Finn wrote. “Currently, eCMS lacks some of the functionality required to manage and provide contract information for the National Acquisition Center and its customers.”

The eCMS system doesn't offer a complete solution and must be supplemented by a second system, which creates “a duplication of effort resulting in an inefficient use of time and resources,” Finn wrote.

Also, managers didn't ensure that eCMS was fully used, and reports generated by the eCMS are not reliable because information is missing or incomplete, she added.

Auditors reviewed 30 national contracts valued at $2.4 billion awarded by the national contract service and found contract information was missing in eCMS for 20 percent of those contracts. Additional documentation required under the Federal Acquisition Regulation was missing for 73 percent of the contracts, Finn wrote.

In addition, the National Acquisition Center did not ensure that contracts were awarded in a timely fashion.

The national contracts examined by the IG's office took between 55 and 1,143 days to award, with an average of 422 days and 73 percent of the contracts examined were not awarded in 130 days or by the extended timelines.

The report explained that timelines are frequently adjusted “in response to factors outside the contracting officer’s’ control, such as vendor protests, awaiting a NAC Contract Review Board decision, and staff reassignments. In every instance identified in our sample where the contract award exceeded the timeliness goal, the National Contract Service Director determined an acceptable reason for the delay existed,” the report said.

However, the auditors said no documentation was available supporting those decisions, nor were officials held accountable for the delays.

“We determined contracting officers were not being held accountable for the untimely awarding of contracts in our sample,” Finn wrote. “Because data in eCMS was also incomplete, contracting milestones in eCMS were not accurate and we could not identify where delays occurred in the contract award.”

The report recommended that controls be established to monitor the use of the eCMS, along with performance requirements to hold contracting officers accountable for using the required system, among other advice.

VA officials agreed with the recommendations and planned to complete all corrective actions by September 2012.

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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