Is Increasing Independence of Contracting Officers the Right Solution?
In June 2013, media stories emerged about how senior officials at the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) pressured subordinate contracting officers to award and extend large federal contracts despite unfavorable terms and inflated pricing. A report by the Office of Inspector General showed that large technology contractors such as Deloitte LLP, Carahsoft Technology Corp. and Oracle Corp., representing more than $900 million in U.S. government spending in fiscal year 2011, had indeed received favorable treatment by GSA managers.
Contracting officers confessed to the Office of Inspector General that the “demands for special treatment of [the] company's offer [were] bordering on unethical” and that the contracting officers were “expected to circumvent the solicitation requirements such as Trade Agreements Act (TAA) compliance and accurate representation of a vendor's sales practices.” As contracting officers and contractors could not cooperate with each other, contractors complained to senior officials at the GSA. The simple solution became to reassign the contracts to new contracting officers who awarded or extended the contracts without acknowledging previously raised issues.
On August 13, 2015 the Officer of Inspector General released an implementation review report addressing the above-stated concerns. The review’s purpose was to ensure that the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) had taken the corrective actions outlined in an Action Plan for Improper Management Intervention that was published on August 1, 2013 to address the special treatment issues. One of the outlined corrective action items was to ensure that the contracting process would be independent and free from management interference. The Office of Inspector General found that FAS not only addressed the steps included in the action plan, but also created a non-managerial industry liaison position to mitigate these kinds of issues between contracting officers and contractors.
The importance of independent decision-making by contracting officers was highlighted by the FAS Commissioner in the implementation review report to be in the best interest of the U.S. taxpayers, but it doesn’t come without ramifications.
Teamwork vs. Independence
The idea of the GSA contract is that vendors should be allowed to argue for their terms, sales and discounting practices. While it is reasonable to put safeguards in place, due in no small part to some of the egregious circumstances that arose in this case, increasing the independence of contracting officers can produce more isolated contracts work that is focused on check-the-box type solutions that do not keep up with the dynamic business environment.
We risk losing innovative solutions as we remove the former team approach. We need to continue a process that allows contracting officers and supervisors to work together to find customized solutions. Businesses often have the ability to move quicker and create richer solutions than their government partners. As new corporations evolve that do not fit into the old requirements, so should federal contracting vehicles in order to avoid missing potential business opportunities. Instead of opposing teamwork between contracting officers, it may be more beneficial, to both the GSA and its prospective vendors, to encourage it.
About Kevin Lancaster
Kevin Lancaster leads Winvale’s corporate growth strategies in both the commercial and government markets. He develops and drives solutions to meet Winvale’s business goals while enabling an operating model to help staff identify and respond to emerging trends that affect both Winvale and the clients it serves. He is integrally involved in all aspects of managing the firm’s operations and workforce, leading efforts to improve productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction.