Roth grilled on contracting databases

Missouri Democrat Claire McCaskill used Denise Turner Roth's confirmation hearing to bore in on delays in the System for Award Management.

Denise Turner Roth.

Denise Turner Roth’s confirmation hearing focused on delays in the System for Award Management.

A Democratic senator zeroed in on the General Services Administration’s problems deploying the System for Award Management contracting database during a July 23 confirmation hearing for GSA Administrator-designate Denise Turner Roth.

The agency's controversial 2010 conference in Las Vegas also came up during the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee session.

Despite the flurry of questions about the System for Award Management (SAM), senators seemed amenable to moving Roth's nomination ahead, with several offering advice on managing people and advising her how to handle potential future hearings and situations as administrator. The vote on her confirmation hasn't been scheduled.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) took Roth to task over SAM. "We're six years into the effort," declared McCaskill. The project, begun in 2009 to unite a dozen acquisition databases and originally estimated to cost $96 million, is now expected to cost $181 million, she noted.

McCaskill said she had also pressed Roth's predecessor, Dan Tangherlini, as well as his predecessor about the program's growing costs, lengthening deadlines and final completion date, all to no avail. "You're unlucky to be at the end of a long line" of GSA administrators who couldn't give an end date for the project, she said. "Do you have a deadline?" she asked.

Roth responded that the program has faced delays while new development approaches were put in place, with testing of segments of the database performed before coming online. Shifts in management at GSA have also contributed to the delay, she said. Roth ultimately said SAM wouldn't be completed until 2018, but acknowledged that the process was "obviously inefficient,” and pledged to follow up with a firmer timeline.

McCaskill wasn’t satisfied with the response, adding that she would withhold support for Roth's confirmation until she gets more details about the SAM effort.

McCaskill also queried Roth on whether the Office of Personnel Management had consulted GSA's contract schedules before cutting a $20.1 million sole-source credit monitoring services contract to Winvale/CSID in the wake of the massive data breach at that agency.

Roth replied she wasn't sure if OPM had looked at her agency's contract schedule for other sources. "I know there were staff level conversations" about the possible use of the schedule. McCaskill told Roth to "check on it," adding that she found OPM's use of a sole source contract for the services "alarming."

Memories of Vegas

GSA's fading five-year-old Las Vegas conference nightmare also came up in the hearing, with several senators referring to it as a touchstone for the agency's morale.

McCaskill said some "really bad things" happened at the 2010 conference that had an $823,000 bill that included charges for hotel suites and fortune tellers. Ranking Democrat Tom Carper of Delaware also referenced the event, asking what Roth had done to build up morale and leadership in her tenure.

Roth responded that she is in constant touch with agency managers and their employees, adding that focusing on the future and measuring success is most helpful in recovering the agency's reputation.

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