GSA unravels snag in digitizing contract files

The General Services Administration’s efforts to streamline its Multiple Award Schedules program by making all files electronic has had the opposite effect, causing the agency to backtrack and rethink its intent, according to a new report.

GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service officials realized more than a year after the digitization plan started in 2010 that the agency only needed to digitize certain contract files. Contracting officers need electronic copies of files to administer a contract. They don’t need all of them, the GSA inspector general wrote in a digital report released Sept. 25.

“Eventually FAS realized that digitizing all contract file documents is not only time consuming and cost prohibitive, but also unnecessary,” the report states.

In response, Mary Davie, acting FAS commissioner, wrote Sept. 17 that officials have identified which files need to be electronic and what information needs to be indexed. They are also standardizing how files should be inventoried and stored.

Some problems include a failure by FAS to establish a comprehensive plan to digitize the contract files. As a result, it contributed to delays in deciding on a scanning policy and putting a solution in place. Auditors determined that one group should have been in charge.

“Because there was not one group dedicated to managing the digitization effort, it took FAS more than a year to identify the challenges associated with trying to scan every document,” auditors wrote.

Davie wrote that responsibility for the program changed hands as the agency moves from its old office building in Washington, DC, to the new facility in Crystal City, Va.

Auditors also found contracting officers could not accept digitized contract files in a timely manner because of procedural hoops, creating a backlog of work, the report states. Procedures instructed the contractor not to send contract files to contracting officers for acceptance. Officials have since changed that procedure.

FAS also wasted time and resources by duplicating efforts. Officials required quality control and quality assurance. The report states that GSA paid a contractor for quality assurance and had contracting officers doing it too. As of February, FAS spent nearly $356,000 for a function that should have been completed in-house. Officials have put now the duty on the contracting officers’ shoulders instead of the contractor’s.

Officials are studying how to best get the overall digitization work done with contractors’ help. FAS is also coordinating requirements with the GSA CIO and the administrative services office, Davie wrote.

Finally, FAS’ current systems can’t meet the standards of the digitization plans. The Electronic Contract Filed viewer application doesn’t always capture contract actions, and the Enterprise Content Management Solution isn’t always readily accessible with data for principal users due to its limitations, the report states.

Davie said FAS would evaluate the ECMS later this year.

She has a goal ahead.

“Success is defined by of scanning 100 percent of MAS contracts by the end of fiscal 2013,” she wrote. As of September, FAS overall is about 40 percent complete.

About the Author

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

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