Contracting

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.

Recommendations

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 staff writer at FCW.

    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, tele.com 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 mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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    Reader comments

    Wed, Jul 3, 2013

    This was a case in which the contractors appealed directly to GSA contract managers and went over the Contracting Officer's head instead of complying with the the contracting officer's quest perform and analysis and requested response to legitimate inquiries in which the contractor ingnored. Rather than support the CO the GSA management circumvented the CO and simply gave into the pressure of the contractor. This is of no benefi to the taxpayer and improper business practice to say the least. I have no sympathy for the devil in this case.

    Wed, Jul 3, 2013 Walter Washington, DC

    I can see both sides of this. On one side, I have seen managers break the rules to give friend's companies sweetheart deals and allow them to get away with murder. I have also seen our Acquisition people gradually push out all input from technical experts in negotiations. The Acuqisition personnel pretend to be experts based on a simple description of the basis for the government cost estimate. If the contractor proposes an alternative way of doing the job they have no basis for determining whether it is even feasible, or if there is some additional risk to the government by going this way. They just fall back on cutting the immediate cost, and we end up back at low bidder land that often lead to high long term costs. All of this additional documentation will slow down the acquisition process and add a pile of paper to what is already excessive. Most of this is also maintained in hard copy and stored for as much as 10 years in warehouse space.

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