OFPP: Data on advisory contracts lost in the shuffle

Officials can't find information on advisory and assistance contracts because agencies don't keep track of services contracts.

Acquisition officials are assessing the definition of advisory and assistance services contracts after they found data on the contracts was unavailable for a mandated report to Congress, according to a recent memo. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy is studying the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s broad definition for advisory and assistance services contacts and reviewing the Federal Procurement Data System reporting requirements for these types of contracts, Paul Denett, OFPP administrator, wrote in a March 26 memo to chief acquisition officers and senior procurement executives. While it surveyed agencies for the information, OFPP found the same problems as the Government Accountability Office told Congress about in a March 31 report. “Agencies’ reported [advisory and assistance services] obligations are inaccurate to the point of being meaningless,” GAO wrote. As OFPP officials looked for the information, they couldn’t find it in FPDS, or in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-11 contract classifications, Denett wrote. Because the information was unavailable to include in OFPP’s required report to Congress, agencies can’t issue waivers to extend task order contracts for advisory and assistance services contracts, Denett wrote. Agencies haven’t been gathering current information on these types of federal contracts, despite being mandated to collect the data for more than a decade, GAO and Denett wrote. To deal with the situation, GAO recommended Congress re-evaluate why these advisory and assistance services contracts should be reported separately from other procurement data to OMB officials. Lawmakers should clarify the definition of the services contracts if they want more insight into the agreements, GAO wrote. A clearer meaning would help agencies understand Congress’ concerns related to these types of contracts. GAO gave several reasons for why officials failed to find the information. First, agencies have different definitions of advisory and assistance services contracts, which contribute to errors in identifying contracts. Agency officials told GAO the current definition makes it difficult to know what constitutes a contractor providing advisory work versus directly performing established services to assist an agency, GAO wrote. The broad definition, coupled with the fact that reported obligations are not being used for management or oversight purposes, calls into question the need to continue the requirement as it currently stands, GAO wrote. Agencies are reporting data inconsistently to OMB. For example, the Energy Department and the IRS categorize an entire contract as an advisory and assistance services contract if the majority of a single contract’s work encompasses those services. Other agencies only label the labor costs, GAO found. Also, GAO said, agencies’ information systems that account for such contracts are not integrated into their procurement and budget systems, which makes it difficult for budget offices to pick out the services contracts to report to OMB.
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