DOD works to get contracting right

Defense Department procurement memo

A new Defense Department directive and a General Services Administration training initiative point to an increasingly prominent role for the Get It Right campaign the two agencies launched earlier this year to prevent misuse of contracting vehicles.

A DOD memo issued Oct. 29

requires Defense agencies to set specific procedures for reviewing and approving the use of contracts managed by other agencies by Jan. 1, 2005. Defense officials were concerned that proposed legislation would have forbidden them from using most non-DOD contracts.

That legislation failed, and now officials want to ensure that Congress does not again feel the need to intervene.

It is not clear whether DOD's actions will lead to a drop-off in the use of GSA contracts or other non-DOD vehicles. Although the provisions called for in the memo don't become effective until the beginning of 2005, DOD officials have been paying closer attention to where they spend their money since at least 2001, according to an official at the Navy.

"The memo is not intended to increase or decrease the use of non-DOD contracts," said Deidre Lee, director of Defense procurement and acquisition policy. "Rather, it is intended to ensure that the use of non-DOD contracts is in DOD's best interests and that they are used properly."

Several cases of contract abuse led to increased scrutiny, including the hiring of interrogators at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison on an information technology contract and FTS employees in Washington state using an IT fund to pay for building construction.

"We expect that future acquisitions utilizing non-DOD contract vehicles will be within the scope of the contract vehicle," Lee said. "Over the long run, we do not expect the policy to impact the frequency that DOD uses non-DOD contracts."

Officials have also asked the DOD inspector general to assess the use of non-DOD contracts, Lee said. The IG's initial assessment is due by March 15, 2005.

The Navy official said contracting officers there are expected to examine their use of non-DOD contracts at each natural

decision point, such as when a contract period expires and officials have to decide whether to exercise an option to extend it.

"People have been doing that and coming up with different answers than maybe they would have in the past," the official said, who spoke on the condition that he not be identified.

Meanwhile, GSA officials are updating and enhancing existing training programs to aid contracting officers in identifying the steps they need to take to properly fulfill contract requirements, said David Drabkin, deputy chief acquisition officer at GSA.

Karl Reichelt, GSA's acting chief acquisition officer, and Stephen Perry, GSA administrator, believe the training is essential to help reduce contracting errors, Drabkin said.

"They anticipate that training and education combined with some additional processes in the pre-award phase will result in Mr. Perry's desired outcome, which is 100 percent compliance," Drabkin said.

While the training is available to all interested employees, GSA officials are also taking it directly to those most in need, he said. The agency is compiling a list of the top 100 DOD users and a separate list of the top 100 customers at agencies outside DOD. GSA officials will train the top DOD customers first and will begin working with the non-DOD agencies later.

The effort demands that agency officials not be overly protective of their turf, Drabkin added. "We don't have the expertise to buy airplanes or ships or refit them. That's expertise DOD has," he said. "To the extent that we do the stuff we're skilled at doing and DOD can keep the stuff they're skilled at doing, the government is served."

For GSA, the effort will be ongoing, Drabkin said.

"It's not something we'll finish in '05. This is not a flash in the pan. We intended to institutionalize this," he said.

Ever since the Get It Right program began, some consultants have expressed only cautious support, fearing that the retreat from the more freewheeling days could go too far.

"If people are out to beat the system, they're going to beat the system," said Robert Guerra, a consultant with Guerra, Kiviat, Flyzik and Associates. "My biggest concern is, if we become overly burdensome and bureaucratic in our desire to prevent people from abusing solutions, we won't prevent people from abusing it and we might delay agencies from getting the solutions they need."

Guerra said he hopes that GSA and DOD will find a middle ground, but he is not optimistic that they will.

Marching orders

Defense Department officials have until Jan. 1, 2005, to establish procedures for reviewing and approving the use of contract vehicles managed by other agencies. The procedures must include:

* Evaluating whether the non-DOD contract is better at satisfying customer requirements, is more cost-effective and has better

administration.

* Determining that the tasks or products needed are within the scope of the contract being considered.

* Reviewing funding to ensure that it is used in accordance with appropriations limitations.

* Providing unique terms, conditions and requirements to the contracting agency so officials can incorporate them into the contract.

* Collecting data on assisted acquisitions for later analysis.

Source: Oct. 29 Defense Department memo

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