Groups fear 'overcorrection' on vendor interaction

contract signing

Three groups representing the federal contractor industry have told the General Services Administration they fear an overcorrection by agency officials following a sharply critical inspector general report, which might derail communications among vendor companies and government contract managers.

The June 4 GSA IG report said Federal Acquisition Service managers "improperly" stepped into negotiations between GSA contracting officers and vendors on Multiple Award Schedule contracts. One FAS supervisor was placed on administrative leave after intervening in the negotiations, accused of pressuring an FAS contracting officer to accept what were called with less-than-favorable terms on federal IT contracts.

In the wake of the report, GSA said its chief acquisition officer would review internal procedures to make sure acquisitions were transparent and unhindered. The report also recommended that FAS start keeping detailed documentation of all conversations and correspondence with contractor officials about specific contracts and offers, including dates, times, participants and specific details of information exchanged.

At the time of the report's release, some familiar with the federal acquisition environment warned GSA and FAS overreaction could squelch valid and valuable communications and interactions between contractors and suppliers, essentially giving vendors with valid problems or complaints nowhere to go.

A June 27 letter from The Coalition for Government Procurement, TechAmerica, and the Professional Services Council puts those concerns into writing to FAS commissioner Tom Sharpe.

"We are concerned that the OIG's recommendations and GSA's corrective actions will have a chilling effect on the role of GSA's procurement managers in the operation of the MAS program," said the letter. The recommendations create a disincentive for managers to step in when their attention and expertise is needed to break through obstacles to successful negotiations.

"We want to push them to come up with a more balanced approach," Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of global public policy at TechAmerica said in an interview with FCW.


The industry groups who co-authored a letter to the Federal Acquisition Service offered several recomendations, including:

  •  Establish an escalation process within acquisition organizations to develop creative solutions to problems.
  •  Create a GSA ombudsman position that could help with difficult issues between the government and contractors.
  •  Open a dialog with industry about the IG report and the issues it raises.

    According to the letter, maintaining higher-level MAS contracting managers' flexibility is critical to the contracting process. "An instruction for managers not to engage except for serious misconduct seems to be aimed exclusively at compliance, without regard to the business operations and customer service responsibilities of GSA and its management team."

    Hodgkins said contractors should be able to turn to GSA management in trying to resolve problems, but in the face of the IG report, he said management won't be involved except in extraordinary situations. "It's a two-way street. It's almost as if they're abdicating their responsibility."

    The groups recommended a variety of measures that would open up additional lines of alternative communications about policies and dispute resolution.

    About the Author

    Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

    Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

    Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

    Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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