The General Services Administration is moving forward with plans to stand up a cloud broker contract for acquiring and managing the performance of federal cloud services.
The Department of Homeland Security is one of two agencies that has committed to testing GSA’s cloud broker model in a pilot program expected to launch this fall, said GSA’s Mark Day. Speaking Monday at the annual Management of Change conference in Maryland, Day said GSA will award one contract to test the concept of a broker model and reevaluate the pilot by year’s end to determine how it could be expanded.
GSA has not yet defined all the services a cloud broker would provide, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology defines a cloud broker as “an entity that manages the use, performance and delivery of cloud services and negotiates relationships between cloud providers and cloud consumers.” Technology research firm Gartner defines cloud brokerage as a business model in which an entity adds value to one or more cloud services on behalf of one or more cloud users.
Some question whether the cloud broker model will add value or end up costing agencies more money. In a Feb. 14 letter to Rep. Doris Matsui, R-Calif., GSA’s Lisa Austin said the cloud broker model could be more effective in creating ongoing competition among cloud providers, rather than awarding single contracts for each cloud service.
“Part of the pilot is really understanding what’s the right role, [and] what’s the right process” for a cloud broker model, Day told Federal Times. ”We think we have an idea, but now we’ve got to test it.”
Day made clear what cloud brokers would not do inherently governmental functions, such as contracting. It isn’t clear to what extent brokers would negotiate services between agencies and cloud service providers, but the hope is that cloud brokers will increase vendor competition and reduce pricing and reduce the complexities of acquiring cloud services and integrating them with existing services.
Roughly 15 agencies are part of the cloud broker discussion, Day said. He would not name the second agency that has committed to testing the broker model because the agency has not announced it publicly.
The challenge for GSA has been attracting business to some of its existing federal contracts, rather than agencies launching their own contracts or using other agencies’ contracts. To garner greater use of its strategic sourcing contracts and future use of its cloud broker contract, GSA is meeting with agencies to determine their commitment to participate in market research and use the contracts, Day said. GSA can better leverage the federal government’s buying power, and vendors have an idea of what’s possible, in terms of business volume on a contract, he said.
More than half of the attendees at a big training meeting in 2011 for the General Services Administration’s acquisition arm hailed from the Washington area, but when it came time to figure out a location, officials headed to sunny Orlando instead.
As outlined in a memo released by the GSA’s Inspector General this week, a review found that Federal Acquisition Service officials settled on a contract proposal for conference planning and training that came to nearly a quarter million dollars, while the next highest vendor proposed just $79,784.
Despite the price, the IG found that officials essentially steered the conference to the Disney Institute by cutting and pasting from the request for quotation of a GSA leadership conference held months earlier by the FAS office in Atlanta. Three other vendors were rated poor and disqualified.
“This indicates that the competition may have been restricted since the requirements in the work statement could not be meet by other potential vendors,” James P. Hayes, deputy assistant IG, concluded in a May 15 memo to FAS Commissioner Thomas A. Sharpe, Jr., who was not in charge of FAS at the time.
Overall, the Florida conference conference cost $164,000, while 58-percent of the 155 attendees came from the Washington area, the IG found.
In am email, Dan Cruz, a spokesman for GSA, said the activity took place in 2011 and “would not be tolerated today.”
He said Acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini, who also was not with GSA at the time, has enacted reforms leading to greater oversight of travel, conference spending and related procurement activities.
“Over the past year, GSA has cancelled more than 50 conferences,” Cruz said. “These internal reforms, including cuts in travel and conference spending, have led to $73 million in savings.”
Tangherlini was named head of GSA after the former chief, Martha Johnson, resigned amid embarrassing disclosures of lavish, taxpayer-funded conferences, including a now infamous gathering in Las Vegas that cost more than $800,000 and featured a red carpet party and a mind reader.
With the Defense Department set to lay out a final furlough policy today, the Merit Systems Protection Board has rejected a union’s request for a heads-up on how it could decide appeals from employees who challenge the decision to force them to take unpaid time off.
“Under federal law, the Board is prohibited from issuing advisory opinions,” the agency’s clerk, William Spencer, said in a letter yesterday to Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers that cites the relevant provision of federal law. This afternoon, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is expected to officially tell DoD employees that most will be furloughed for up to 11 days by the end of September because of sequester-related budget cuts.
On May 1, Junemann had asked the board to issue “a pre-emptive statement of opinion” on whether furloughed DoD workers could win appeals. Such a step would save the board “from deciding thousands of cases that would likely come,” Junemann said in the letter MSPB chairman Susan Grundmann.
The board’s decision is “disappointing,” Matt Biggs, IFPTE’s legislative and policy director, in a phone interview today. By issuing the pre-emptive ruling, he said, board members “would have saved themselves a lot of time and effort and work because there are going to be thousands of cases going through.”
Over the last few days the IRS has become the focus of the media after evidence that some employees targeted specific political groups seeking a certain type of non-profit status. Lawmakers have called or hearings or the firing of those employees while outside groups have cried foul over their treatment by the IRS.
So what happens now? How bad is it? Is this a major scandal or the standard procedure for IRS enforcement of these tax-exempt groups?
For all of you federal employees out there feel free to chime in about how you feel about the unfolding story or comment anonymously to firstname.lastname@example.org
President Obama’s choice for deputy budget director spent a fair amount of time discussing the need for tighter management during a confirmation hearing today.
During a period of fiscal challenges, a key focus “has got to be making our government more efficient and more effective,” Brian Deese told members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. President Obama nominated Deese, previously a top White House economic aide, last month for the post of deputy budget director at the Office of Management and Budget. The person holding that job “plays an important role in setting those (management side) priorities and also in making sure that we as a team at OMB would be well-positioned to execute on those,” he said.
In replies to written questions released at the hearing, Deese added that “greater focus on evidence in budgeting” will ensure effective government spending. If confirmed, Deese said he would work closely with OMB’s deputy director for management. That post has been vacant since Jeff Zients left last month; Obama has not yet named a replacement.
Deese served as deputy director of the National Economic Council from January 2011 until March; since then, he has been at OMB as a counselor to the director. If confirmed, he would replace Heather Higginbottom, who left in February for a job at the State Department.
No significant opposition has emerged so far to his nomination. At today’s hearing, committee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., praised Deese as someone who understands the importance of innovation, both in saving money and in delivering better public services. Besides Carper, only Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., attended. A spokesman for the committee’s top Republican, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, did not reply to voicemails asking the reason for his boss’s absence.
The Senate Budget Committee, which also has jurisdiction over Deese’s nomination, plans its own confirmation hearing later this month, a spokeswoman said.
We had a great response from all of you readers last time we did this so we are opening it up for another round of comments from fellow feds.
Federal employees have a lot to deal with. Congress has slashed budgets governmentwide while the sequester has forced agencies to initiate furloughs. Feds are being asked to do more than ever with fewer resources and are being stretched to the limit.
But beyond all that, it seems that some federal employees are working in barely functioning facilities. There have been stories of mold, exploding toilets, cracked ceiling tiles and leaky plumbing. Agencies have multi-billion backlogs of repairs and maintenance that have not been funded in years, and feds are paying the price.
What is it like at your building? Has something broken and just not been fixed? Have you been told that repairs to bathroom fixtures are not on the table? Tell us all your horror stories about where you work by commenting on the blog, or feel free to email me at email@example.com to talk about your issues.
Members of the U.S. Postal Service’s board of governors risked losing their jobs if the agency persevered with ending Saturday mail delivery following passage of a final fiscal 2013 spending bill.
That was the warning delivered by an outside law firm April 5–four days before the board pulled the plug on the plan.
Proceeding with five-day mail delivery “would entail a number of risks,” Jeffrey Bucholtz, a partner with King & Spalding, wrote in a 17-page opinion prepared for the Postal Service’s legal department. “First, violating a federal law would likely supply cause for the President to remove the Governors.”
While the Supreme Court has never precisely defined the grounds for removal, Bucholtz continued, “it has said that the good-cause standard enables the President to ensure that an independent officer ‘is competently performing his or her statutory responsibilities in a manner that comports with’ applicable legislation.”
The odds of successfully moving ahead with five-day delivery faced other possible roadblocks, he added, including a legal challenge from the comptroller general and other lawsuits that could spring up around the country. Although judges could rule either way on such cases, he said, “the Postal Service would have to run the table and win every case in every court.”
The memo, marked “PRIVILEGED AND CONFIDENTIAL,” casts new context on the board’s about-face on five-day delivery. In last month’s statement announcing that it was halting implementation of the new schedule, the panel, chaired by Mickey Barnett, a lawyer and former New Mexico state senator, didn’t reference the removal threat. Whether that factored into its decision is unclear.
A seat on the board carries real power over the operations of an enterprise that affects virtually every American. But the pay is $30,000 annually plus expenses, a relatively modest amount by Washington standards for what in recent years has become an increasingly time-consuming job.
In a brief interview Friday, Barnett said the removal risk had no effect on his stance. “My term’s up at the end of December,” Barnett said following the board’s public meeting on release of the Postal Service’s second quarter financial results. Speaking on behalf of the board, Postal Service spokesman Dave Partenheimer had previously pointed back to last month’s statement. There, the board said that Congress left it no choice but to drop the plan for now and that it didn’t want to unduly burden postal customers with “ongoing uncertainties.”
The memo was one of two that Bucholtz prepared on the five-day delivery question at a cost to the Postal Service of about $51,000. The central issue was whether a decades-old congressional ban on curtailing mail delivery days still applied under the stop-gap spending measures known as continuing resolutions.
Under the CR that was in place in February when the Postal Service announced plans to end Saturday mail service with projected savings of $2 billion per year, Bucholtz had opined in a Feb. 28 memo that the agency could legally proceed. It was a whole different story under the full-year CR signed in late March. That measure did incorporate the ban, he said in the April 5 memo. As an independent agency, Bucholtz said, “the Postal Service should tread carefully in the highly controversial area of potential open disobedience of a federal statute.”
“Without support from Congress or the President, efforts to avoid compliance with enacted law are not likely to succeed.”
Of course, the Postal Service, citing a lack of money, has twice flouted a separate legal requirement that it pay about $5.5 billion annually into a fund for future retiree health care. Those defaults have generated little concern from politicians. At an April 17 congressional hearing, they also helped prompt the following frank exchange between Barnett and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, according to a transcript.
Issa: “You obey a law that costs you $2 billion and you ignore a law that says you owe us $5.5 billion a year and you’ve done it for two years. Why would you pick one law to obey, that cost — you know, that you choose to obey, that actually costs you $2 billion? Where’s the fiduciary balance there? If you’re going to break a law, why is that the law that you broke? Or didn’t break?”
Barnett: “Mr. Chairman, thanks for that question, because I, we do have a reason. The board has discussed it extensively. The real problem with the going from six to five-day, knowing it will be challenged in court and not knowing what the result would be, is the tens of thousand dollars that many, many businesses would have to implement in software updates and changes in their procedures. It also involves approximately 23,000 employees that would be directly affected . . .”
[Post updated Friday, May 10, with Barnett comments]
Richard Spires has resigned from his post as chief information officer at the Department of Homeland Security, an agency official confirmed Tuesday.
Spires has been on elected leave since March 15, according to the DHS official. But the nature of his resignation is unclear. Margie Graves, the departnment’s deputy CIO, will continue serving as acting CIO.
DHS has yet to respond to earlier requests from Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member of the House Homeland Security Committee, concerning Spires’ extended leave from the agency. Specifically, Thompson asked why Spires was placed on voluntary or non voluntary leave, and who made the final decision regarding his leave. Responses were due May 6.
On Nov. 27, 2012, at 3:38 p.m., an employee at Insight Systems Corp., which was bidding on a health services contract, submitted a revised quote to two employees inside the U.S. Agency for International Development.
The deadline for doing so was 5 p.m.
The message reached the first of three agency-controlled servers at 3:41 p.m., but then it got stuck. And it wasn’t until 5:18 p.m. that the email reached the first USAID employee, while the second employee didn’t receive the message until 5:57 p.m.
Around the same time, an employee at another company, CenterScope, which was submitting its own revised quote, sent a submission to the same USAID employees at 4:39 p.m., but that email did not reach the intended recipients until 5:15 p.m. and 6:08 p.m., respectively.
Too late, right?
Not according to U.S. Court of Federal Claims Judge Francis Allegra.
In a 22-page opinion released Monday, Allegra rules in favor of both contractors in a recent complaint against USAID.
Aside from calling USAID’s decision to reject the quotes because they were late “arbitrary, capricious and contrary to law,” the ruling — in case you’re interested — provides a road map of a typical email message through a maze of internal servers.
In this case, the emails were received and accepted by the USAID’s internal server, but they got stuck there for a while and weren’t forwarded to the next server because of an internal error.
The delays lasted as long as more than two hours, but none of the messages made it to their final recipients by the 5 p.m. deadline.
Still, USAID sent both contractors letters days later saying their quotes wouldn’t be considered because, after all, late is late.
Allegra disagreed, sharply
He went so far as to say USAID approached the question of the timeliness of electronic submission “with the zeal of a pedantic school master awaiting a term paper.”
He also ruled that couldn’t see any reason why possession of the quotes couldn’t be effectuated through a government computer server any less than through a clerk in a mail room.
In the end, Allegra’s ruling bars USAID from making an award unless it accepts quotes from both contractors.
Or, he ruled, USAID could start all over with a new procurement.
One morning in August 2011, the vice president of an information technology contractor for the federal government awoke, checked his BlackBerry and noticed something strange.
Overnight, as court records would later go on to describe, someone had sent an email from the unnamed executive’s work account to a former employee.
An internal investigation soon led to a federal probe by the FBI and the General Service Administration’s Office of Inspector General.
Now, nearly two years after that unusual email, the former employee, Robert Edwin Steele, 38, stands convicted by a jury in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., of 14 counts of unauthorized access of a protected computer.
In announcing the conviction Friday, federal prosecutors said Steele worked at multiple companies in government contracting, resigning from one known only as “Company A” in December 2010.
But after leaving the company and while working for another contractor, prosecutors said Steele continued sifting through his old employer’s records. All told, he accessed the company’s internal system more than 79,000 times from December 2010 to early September 2011, authorities said.
When sentenced in July, Steele faces up to one year in prison on two misdemeanor convictions and five years on each of 12 felony convictions.