October 3, 2010 by ei2admin
The White House has created an interagency working group to stop counterfeit goods from entering the supply chains that support Defense Department weapons systems and private sector electronic goods, the nation’s first intellectual property czar said on Tuesday.
“The implications of DoD procuring counterfeit goods are negative and obvious,” said Victoria Espinel, the U.S. intellectual property enforcement coordinator at the Office of Management and Budget. “Our understanding is that this is a problem that a number of our agencies are struggling with.”
Espinel made her comments at an event hosted by the nonpartisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, before the start of a panel discussion on strengthening enforcement of IP rights in countries that systematically extort intellectual property. Congress created the IP coordinator position in 2008, to respond to concerns that government agencies responsible for protecting intellectual property were not coordinating.
This summer, the White House issued a joint strategic plan to combat IP theft that called for establishing a governmentwide working group to study how to reduce the risk of agencies procuring counterfeit parts. The framework stated the task force should include representatives from the National Security Council, Defense, NASA, General Services Administration, Commerce Department, Small Business Administration and Homeland Security Department.
A January 2010 Commerce survey found that nearly 40 percent of entities across the procurement supply chain discovered counterfeit electronics between 2005 and 2008. The semiconductor industry has aired concerns that counterfeit chips mislabeled as military-grade can lead to fatal malfunction in military and aerospace parts, according to the White House’s strategic plan.
On Tuesday, Espinel observed the IP problem is one issue where there is consensus in Congress. “I feel very lucky to be working in an area where there is great bipartisan support,” she said. Democratic Sens. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sherrod Brown of Ohio in an Aug. 6 letter to Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, expressed fear about the potential for counterfeit parts to delay military missions and seriously affect the integrity of weapons systems.
The senators’ letter referenced the Commerce study and a March Government Accountability Office report that found Defense did not have specific procedures for detecting and preventing counterfeit parts from infiltrating the supply chain.
China, the country most frequently identified as the source of counterfeit items, should be treated with “a carrot-and-stick approach,” Espinel said. “China is both an economically sensitive issue and a political sensitive issue.”
October 1, 2010 by ei2admin
The small business contracting parity debate is finally over.
On Monday, President Obama signed legislation that re-establishes equality among each of the small business subcategories that competes for government contracts.
The 2010 Small Business Jobs Act, which also provides tax cuts for undersized firms and creates programs to support private sector lending, makes a technical revision to the 1953 Small Business Act by replacing the word “shall” in the Historically Underutilized Business Zone statute with the word “may.”
The old language in the Small Business Act stated that a procurement officer shall award contracts based on limited competition to HUBZone small businesses. But, the statutes creating the service-disabled veteran-owned small business program and the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Business Development Program used the word “may” when referring to set-aside contracts.
The Government Accountability Office and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims determined the difference unambiguously established a preference for HUBZone firms.
The Small Business Administration lobbied lawmakers for months to support legislation that would place contractors in the 8(a) and service-disabled veteran-owned small business programs — and the pending women-owned small businesses program — on equal footing with HUBZone companies. HUBZone companies are located in economically depressed neighborhoods.
“This clarification will help federal agencies meet each of the government’s small business contracting goals,” said SBA spokeswoman Hayley Matz.
The agency now will work with the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to “put in place, as expeditiously as possible, provisions implementing parity among all of SBA’s contracting and business development programs,” Matz said.
But, some small businesses are worried the new legislation could spell the end of the HUBZone program. “This is going to seal the fate of the HUBZone program,” said Jim Slagle, executive vice president for sales and marketing at Mission Critical Solutions, a Tampa, Fla. HUBZone firm that first challenged the parity statute in court. “They are not going to prioritize HUBZone firms. I don’t know that we will survive this.”
The federal government has not met its goal of awarding 3 percent of all contract dollars to HUBZone small businesses, while it generally exceeds its 5 percent goal for small disadvantaged businesses — a category that includes the 8(a) program.
Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and ranking member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, sponsored the parity language in the Small Business Jobs Act. Snowe, however, did not vote for the overall legislation because of its cost and questions surrounding the structure of several lending programs.
The jobs act also:
- Directs SBA to establish a mentor-protégé program to assist small businesses owned by women, service-disabled veterans and those operating in HUBZones. The initiative would be modeled after the 8(a) mentor-protégé program.
- Requires OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy to establish a governmentwide policy for contract bundling — a process in which several small contracts are consolidated and awarded to one firm, often out of the reach of small businesses. Prior to bundling a contract, procurement officials would be required to conduct market research and to have a senior acquisition official sign off on the decision. The rationale for bundling then would be publicly disclosed.
- Instructs OFPP to develop guidance that would allow agencies to set aside orders placed against multiple-award contracts exclusively for small businesses. The policy would apply to indefinite delivery-indefinite quantity contracts and task and delivery-order awards.
- Establishes a pilot program for collaboration and joint ventures involving small business contractors. Under the five-year program, $5 million in federal grants will be awarded to eligible small business teams seeking to compete for larger procurement contracts.
- Mandates small businesses recertify their size status annually. The law also establishes a governmentwide policy for prosecuting companies that fraudulently disclose themselves to be a small business.
The parity controversy was sparked in May 2009 when Mission Critical Solutions, which had lost out on an Army IT contract to an 8(a) minority-owned small business, filed a protest with GAO. The company argued, and GAO agreed, that HUBZone firms were legally at the top of the small business pecking order and the government should have given Mission Critical Solutions the first crack at the contract.
The ruling sparked a fury of activity, with the Office of Management and Budget and Justice Department issuing rare contradictory memos instructing agencies to disregard GAO’s nonbinding decision because it could “significantly limit the discretion” of contracting officers.
In a separate case, the Court of Federal Claims, a body whose rulings are binding, later decided in favor of Mission Critical Solutions. Justice has appealed that decision, although it is unclear how the new legislation will affect that case.
GAO since has ruled in favor of two HUBZone firms that filed similar contract protests. And in August the Court of Federal Claims issued its second ruling on the matter, arguing the Air Force first should have considered DGR Associates Inc., a HUBZone firm, before awarding a contract at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska to an 8(a) small business.
– By Robert Brodsky – GovExec.com – September 27, 2010
September 7, 2010 by ei2admin
Some agency officials say they are following a well thought-out approach to spending what’s left in their fiscal-year information technology budgets — a game plan that defies the myth that departments rush to spend funds before they become unavailable after Sept. 30.
The phenomenon of the year-end spending sprees first came to light in 1980, when the Senate Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management issued a report that found the hurry to obligate expiring funds before the end of the fiscal year often led to a lack of competition, inadequately negotiated contracts and the purchase of low-priority items.
In a 1998 follow-up to that study, the Government Accountability Office concluded agencies’ spending patterns were hard to assess because quarterly budget data, which could show a spike in fourth-quarter spending, was unreliable. Since then, federal auditors haven’t evaluated the issue much, and information on last-minute expenditures can be hard to obtain, according to some academic researchers.
Ramji Balakrishnan, an accounting professor at the University of Iowa who co-wrote a 2007 report on the subject, recently told Federal News Radio that he was able to access figures on year-end spending at U.S. Army hospitals largely because his co-author, a veteran, had contacts inside the military. According to the paper, which was published in the Journal of Management Accounting Research, administrators stockpiled supplies toward the end of a fiscal year, but then saved more money than they spent during the year-end splurge at the start of the next fiscal year.
A trend of precalculated buying seems to be occurring at several agencies with large IT budgets, including the General Services Administration and Veterans Affairs Administration, according to government officials.
In April, Administrator Martha Johnson directed GSA’s chief information officer, Casey Coleman, to complete five high-priority IT projects within 18 months — a feat that Coleman said the agency finished in 10 weeks. The agency’s IT budget for fiscal 2010 is $605.9 million. By quickly wrapping up the projects, which included boosting the capacity of GSA’s networks and adding remote private networks for teleworkers, Coleman was able to focus late-year spending on supplemental purchases for the agency’s increasingly mobile workforce, she said.
“By doing that we really set the foundation for IT modernization for the agency,” Coleman said in an interview with Nextgov. “Now we are in Phase 2 of our modernization program.”
Phase 2 involves purchasing green products. Johnson this summer challenged GSA to eliminate the federal government’s adverse effects on the environment, what’s known as creating “a zero environmental footprint.”
The agency plans to spend its IT money in September on products and services that support the zero e-emissions goal, Coleman said. GSA will invest in videoconferencing equipment; shared printing workstations to replace individual desktop printers, which are rarely used; and a cloud computing tool for e-mail, scheduling and other interoffice communications. Cloud computing is an arrangement that provides online access to hardware and software, eliminating the need to rely on energy-hungry, in-house data centers for IT services.
A contract for cloud services is expected to be awarded in October using fiscal 2010 money earmarked for spending in September.
GSA was unable to provide information on remaining money the agency returned to the treasury at the end of the last fiscal year.
The thinking is that GSA, as the nation’s biggest storefront, can expand the green IT market governmentwide — and perhaps nationwide — by purchasing environmentally responsible goods. Experimenting at the departmental level also might enable GSA to eventually offer governmentwide, eco-friendly IT contracting vehicles, agency officials said.
Veterans Affairs, which has a $3.3 billion IT budget, will spend its remaining fiscal 2011 funds on rolling out systems that can quickly exchange patient records via the Web, VA officials said. Such expenditures should increase access to health care, including mental health services, they added. September money also will support upgrades to benefits delivery systems and the department’s IT infrastructure.
At the end of fiscal 2009, Veterans Affairs let $462,000 in IT-related funding lapse, or become unavailable for new purchases.
In the past, officials at the Environmental Protection Agency spent all of their IT money by the end of the year, but only after careful planning, they said. Last year, EPA did not return any IT-related funding to the treasury. The agency’s enacted IT budget for fiscal 2010 is $465 million.
A significant portion of EPA’s technology infrastructure spending is managed under a business model that quantifies IT needs at the beginning of each fiscal year, officials said. “This process promotes spending that is thought-out and forecasted, and minimizes a potential end-of year spending surge,” EPA spokeswoman Latisha Petteway said.
– By Aliya Sternstein – NextGov.com - 08/26/2010
September 3, 2010 by ei2admin
Federal agencies are failing to maximize opportunities to make contracts competitive, often because of poor management or because officials have grown comfortable with incumbent contractors, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
The watchdog reviewed trends in noncompetitive contracts during the past several years and discovered a number of questionable business practices by contracting officials and program managers. GAO found 44 percent of all federal contracts in fiscal 2009 either were not placed up for competition or attracted only one bid.
The report (GAO-10-833), which the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee requested, highlighted contracts that appeared to be written with such narrowly defined requirements that only one company could reasonably compete. In other instances, program offices pressed for follow-on contracts to be awarded without competition to the existing company because it would be more expeditious since the offices already had formed a relationship with the firm.
“A Navy program official stated that, when one contractor has been performing a requirement for many years, it is easier to go back to the contractor personnel who understand the requirement rather than taking the time to find a new vendor,” the report said.
From fiscal 2005 to fiscal 2009, the reported obligations for noncompetitive contracts declined from 36 percent of total procurement spending to 31 percent, investigators found. But contracts in which only one offer was received remained steady at around 13 percent.
The report cited a host of reasons for contracts with only one bid. Often, companies are scared off by a competent incumbent contractor considered an overwhelming favorite to continue with the work, the watchdog said. Other times, solicitations might appear to favor one company, the report noted. In addition, some vendors that might have competed for work are forming teams to submit one offer, industry officials told GAO.
“Given the nation’s fiscal constraints, it is not acceptable to keep an incumbent contractor in place without competition simply because the contractor is doing a good job, or to resist legitimate suggestions that competition be imposed even though it may take longer,” the report said.
GAO recommended the Obama administration assess the reasons contracts are receiving only one offer. Daniel Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at the Office of Management and Budget, has argued that one bid is not enough to constitute competition and that the practice limits agencies’ ability to consider qualified alternatives.
Recent OFPP guidance requires agencies to begin separating data collected on these contracts and to code them as “noncompetitive procurements using competitive procedures.” Gordon concurred with GAO’s recommendation.
But, it might be difficult to get sound data on contract competition. GAO randomly selected a sample of 107 contracts and orders that were coded as noncompetitive or receiving one bid, and reviewed the contract files. Eighteen percent of the contracts were coded incorrectly — as either not competed when they had been, or as competed with one offer received when they had not been competed at all, the report said.
In fiscal 2009, the Navy and the Air Force had some of the worst competition rates, with about 45 percent of contracts not competitive, GAO said. The Energy Department and Office of Personnel Management had among the lowest rates of noncompetition, at 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
The most common explanation for failing to conduct any competition was that “only one reasonable source” was available to perform the work, according to the GAO sample. In some cases, such as an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement contract for communications equipment and supplies, one contractor essentially owns the market.
In other instances, particularly with Defense Department weapons programs, the government is hamstrung by a lack of access to proprietary technical data, according to the watchdog. Companies’ expertise, experience and reluctance to sell technical data for a reasonable price generally preclude the possibility of competition, the report said.
Several contracting officials blamed the lack of competition on receiving short notice from program offices for acquisitions. With little time to conduct market research or properly define requirements — elements of a robust acquisition process — contracting officials often turn back to the incumbent, investigators said.
The second most frequently cited exception to competition was the authority to award sole-source contracts to firms in Small Business Administration’s 8(a) business development program. Through the program, agencies are encouraged to award participating 8(a) firms noncompetitive contracts worth less than $3.5 million when procuring services, or less than $5.5 million for manufacturing.
– by Robert Brodsky – GovExec.com – August 26, 2010