Contract emphasis: 'Get It Right'

Amid concerns about contracting controversies, General Services Administration and Defense Department officials last week launched the Get It Right campaign, a comprehensive plan that will address all aspects of procurement.

The plan is in response to ongoing investigations that have uncovered violations in several field offices of GSA's Federal Technology Service.

GSA Administrator Stephen Perry shared the stage with Deidre Lee, director of Defense procurement and acquisition policy, in announcing the program. As GSA's largest customer, DOD played a role in developing Get It Right and has its own procurement initiatives as well.

The new program is intended to build better training and more accountability into procurement practices, Perry said. In turn, GSA officials will report on their progress to the Office of Management and Budget and to Congress.

GSA officials have undertaken a review of contracts that the agency awarded during the past 12 months and will soon begin reviewing contracts that other agency officials awarded under GSA contracts, Perry said. Meanwhile, inspector general investigations into activities at the field offices are ongoing.

"We're striving to have a zero-deficiency" record, he said. Compliance "is not optional. This is the way it must be done." There will be no place for excuses, Perry said.

DOD officials recently began setting policies for the use of nondepartment contracts, including those that GSA offers, Lee said, emphasizing that the department is not limiting the use of such vehicles but will make sure they are used properly.

The new program calls for accountability at all levels, she said. Even contractors will be held responsible for reporting task orders that are outside the scope of the contract they're placed under, she said.

Lee's office recently published an interim rule governing procedures for procuring services under non-DOD contracts. Comments are coming in on that rule, and Lee said another interim rule is likely to follow soon.

Perry said some GSA employees were fired because of the earlier abuses, but he declined to offer details.

Some observers said GSA is taking the right steps, but they are cautious.

Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, objected to the program's focus on contractors.

"One potential concern our members have is that contractors will be made to be the enforcer to ensure that buyers use the program correctly," he said. "The coalition absolutely opposes any effort to 'deputize' contractors. Primary responsibility on ensuring compliance with government procurement rules lies with the government itself. While companies must be responsible corporate citizens, they shouldn't be put in the position of policing their customers."

Allen said vendors should not be singled out because of abuses. "We are concerned that GSA will make contractors bear a disproportionate share of responsibility, additional recordkeeping and blame," he said. "Government buyers must also be held accountable when they come to contractors with work right on the edge of a contract's scope. It's easy to blame the contractor, but all sides must be held accountable."

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, warned against making contracting harder than it needs to be in the course of making sure it's done correctly.

"The need to review and re-evaluate some procedures and policies is real and valid," he said. "The overarching goals make perfect sense, and I think they really are good government goals. I don't want to see us get to a situation where we overreach."

GSA and DOD officials should carefully define what they mean as they talk about Get It Right, Soloway said.

"When we talk about a zero-tolerance policy, what does that mean?" he asked. "People are going to make mistakes. Define what you're talking about so people don't run scared."

***

Seeking a fix

Stephen Perry, the General Services Administration's administrator, and Deidre Lee, the Defense Department's director of procurement and acquisition policy, unveiled the "Get It Right" campaign last week. Major objectives of the plan include:

Ensuring compliance with federal contracting regulations.

Making contracting policies and procedures clear and explicit.

Ensuring the integrity of GSA's contract vehicles and services.

Improving competition in the marketplace.

Improving information about the use of GSA's contract vehicles and services.

Ensuring that taxpayers get the best value.

Source: General Services Administration

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