Federal Times Blogs

Corporate giants with hearts of gold

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Corporate Responsibility Magazine released today its list of the top 10 “best corporate citizens” in government contracting. TellyMonster

The magazine took the top 100 contractors listed on USAspending.gov and applied the same methodology it uses to produce its annual “100 Best Corporate Citizens” list. (The necessary information was available only for the 37 publicly traded companies on the list.) Firms are judged on their environmental impact, employee relations, corporate governance, financial responsibility, philanthropy, and human-rights policies.

And, drum roll please … the best corporate citizen in government contracting for 2010 is … Hewlett-Packard!!! Well, good for them. Rounding out the top five are IBM, Merck, Dell, and something called McKesson Corp., which I’ve never heard of but is apparently the largest health-care company in the world, according to Wikipedia. Ranking in the bottom five were L-3 Communications Holdings, Honeywell, McDermott, Oshkosh and Valero Energy Corp. — however, a special category of shame is reserved for Pfizer, which isn’t even allowed to be on the list and instead gets a “red card” because it was recently fined $2.3 billion by the U.S. Department of Justice for bribing doctors.

So what are federal acquisition units supposed to do with this information? Well, they’re still trying to figure that out. The Corporate Responsibility Officers Association has formed something called the “Corporate Excellence for Government Roundtable” that is “committed to improving transparency and responsibility among government contractors” will hold its first meeting tomorrow.

It all sort of sounds like a bunch of fluff, but General Services Administration administrator Martha Johnson is taking it seriously: She’s scheduled to speak at tomorrow’s meeting and participate in the discussion. Maybe GSA and other agencies are looking for new ways to take action against shady or unsavory contractors.

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More on OMB’s performance reviews

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Shelley Metzenbaum, OMB’s associate director for performance and personnel management, issued a memo on performance management today that didn’t seem to say much beyond previously announced plans to meet with agencies on their high-priority goals and set up a website to track agencies’ performance.

One interesting line, though, was this one: “Agencies should consider this year a transition year during which OMB and the [Performance Improvement Council] will move to a more dynamic performance planning, management, improvement, and reporting framework that is useful, streamlined and coherent.”

This seems to indicate that OMB is going to establish some kind of performance-management system or checklist that agencies use, even though Metzenbaum has said before that OMB didn’t want to do that. Or perhaps this just refers to OMB’s performance website?

I’m checking this out with OMB, but at first blush this memo doesn’t appear to be a change in direction from OMB’s vision of using outcome-based, data-driven analysis and holding agencies accountable for progress toward their high-priority goals. We’ll be watching to see how agencies live up to these expectations when they’re explaining to OMB this summer why they want to cut Program X from their fiscal 2012 budget, but not Project Y.

UPDATE 6/29/10:

Here’s the response to my questions I received from OMB press secretary Jean Weinberg. Do with this information what you will.

1. The transition year refers to the period during which agencies are producing documents to meet the requirements of GPRA, which include the FY 2012 Performance Budget/Annual Performance Plan and the FY 2010 Annual Performance Report.

2. The new “framework” is expected to cover the full performance improvement process – not just plan and report production. The framework is expected to include key steps such as leaders setting priorities, analyzing results to identify performance variations and understand the reasons for them, holding regular data-driven reviews, and ensuring accountability and transparency of results. This new approach is exemplified by the High Priority Performance Goal effort, the launching pad for the Administration’s broader performance improvement and transparency efforts.”

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OMB to halt 30 financial systems projects

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The Office of Management and Budget is going to announce today that it’s halting all financial systems modernization projects across the government.

That means 30 projects worth $20 billion are now effectively on hold until OMB can come up with a way to improve the procurement process in this area.

The most well-known failure in this area is the Veterans Affairs Department’s CoreFLS project (since replaced by a new program called FLITE that hasn’t gone much better). The department has spent a total of about $300 million on this boondoggle over 10 years and has seen no tangible benefits.

Jeff Zeints, OMB’s deputy director for management, is going to take four months to develop guidance on how to improve the federal procurement process for information technology. This is a source of frequent complaints from IT and acquisition officials — the government process is just too slow to keep up with rapid advancements in IT.

OMB is having a conference call in about a half hour to discuss its strategy — we’ll have an update for you later this afternoon.

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Federal agencies of yesteryear

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NPR’s Planet Money blog has a cute little rundown of federal agencies that have changed their names in the past, prompted by the Minerals Management Service’s rebranding as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (try to say that acronym three times fast).

This sort of thing intrigues me so I Googled around a bit and found a nice list on Wikipedia of defunct federal agencies.

Anyone remember the Board of Tea Appeals (which apparently hung around until 1996, somehow?!)?

How about the Board of Economic Warfare? The Federal Theatre Project?

Oh, for the days when a fed could sip a nice cup of tea at the theatre after a long day of economic warfare, without that meddling Congress ruining all the fun.

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It’s official: Orszag’s leaving

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Office of Management and Budget chief Peter Orszag confirmed to the Associated Press that he’ll leave his post in July. While not unexpected, the timing could be problematic, as Orszag just this month issued two key memos ordering agencies to identify deep budget cuts. His successor, yet to be named, will have to hit the ground running as agencies file into OMB to justify their decisions.

New rule: contractors must give employees union info

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Government contractors and subcontractors are now required to post signs that “inform their employees of their rights as employees under federal labor laws.” Acquisition workers will have to write the provision into every contract they write from now on.

The rule went into effect yesterday, about a month after the Labor Department published it in the Federal Register. It’s based on a Jan. 30, 2009 executive order from President Obama. The president wrote at the time that his order was “designed to promote economy and efficiency in government procurement.  When the Federal Government contracts for goods or services, it has a proprietary interest in ensuring that those contracts will be performed by contractors whose work will not be interrupted by labor unrest.”

Essentially, the order and the rule are designed to ensure that employees are aware of their right to join a union. The move is part of a package of labor-related executive orders issued in early 2009. One, related to collective bargaining agreements on large construction projects, already resulted in a change to federal procurement rules. Two others are still working their way through the pipeline.

Rebecca Pearson of the Washington law firm Venable said the information contained in the notices required to be posted under the new rule is fairly benign, but that the move is part of the Obama administration’s larger “pro-union agenda.” She also worried that the rule allows for contractors to be suspended or disbarred if they don’t comply.

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PSC still worried about defense insourcing

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Stan Soloway and Alan Chvotkin over at the Professional Services Council expressed their displeasure with Defense Department insourcing efforts in a May letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Recent congressional attention to the issue hasn’t done much to assuage their concerns.

In a conference call with reporters this morning to discuss the Senate and House versions of the 2011 defense authorization bill, Soloway and Chvotkin said PSC supports an amendment by Rep. Jim Langevin that would prohibit DoD from setting quotas for its insourcing efforts.

However, two other amendments passed by the House seem to conflict with the Langevin amendment, Soloway said. One, proposed by Rep. John Sarbanes, would institutionalize a preference for insourcing; the other, from Rep. Tom Perriello, would forbid DoD from giving firms credit if their benefits costs are lower than the government’s, Soloway said.

Soloway complained that the amendments were passed “with little discussion or debate” and that acquisition issues are receiving insignificant attention from Congress during the defense budget process. The Senate still hasn’t passed its version of the authorization bill, so the final impact on defense acquisition remains to be seen.

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Government performance data on the Web

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I reported yesterday on the Office of Management and Budget’s plan to review agencies’ progress toward their high-priority performance goals and post that information on the Web.

I spoke with Peter Grace at HUD this morning and he said the site will be called USAperformance.gov and he expects it to be live by July. Shelley Metzenbaum of OMB would only say yesterday that it would be up this summer or this fall, so perhaps July is the goal, but they’re hedging their bets on when it will actually go live.

Right now, the USAperformance.gov URL exists but is password protected.

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Robots! Cars! GSA!

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A robot car in disguise

A robot car in disguise

What does GSA think it is, DARPA?

I just came across a recent blog post from GSA CIO Casey Coleman, in which she muses on the possibility of driverless robocars populating our highways. “Where is my radio controlled driverless robocar?” Coleman wonders, stuck somewhere in the hellish snarl of the Beltway.

If DoD can build a flying car, could robo-cars be far behind? And the more important question is, can we program our robot drivers to honk angrily and shout comical robotic obscenities when another robot driver cuts us off? I lived in Boston for several years and I know what an integral part of driving this is.

Another question: What’s more difficult, building a radio-controlled driverless robocar or figuring out a way to make sense of the FAR?

OK, that’s enough. If you need me, I’ll be patiently waiting for a robot car to pop up on the GSA schedules.

Thieves target Virginia government offices

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This is why you don’t let anyone follow you into the building without proper identification.

A group of thieves is targeting office buildings in northern Virginia, including sensitive federal offices, the Atlantic reported today. Read the rest of this entry »