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.
The General Services Administration has launched a full review of its key online procurement system, after discovering a security vulnerability that may have exposed users’ sensitive data.
The security flaw was reported to GSA on March 8, and the agency has since issued a software patch on the system and is investigating potential impacts to vendors registered in GSA’s System for Award Management (SAM).
“When we got the word that this might be the case, we got right on it,” GSA Acting Administrator Dan Tangherlini told reporters Tuesday following a congressional hearing. “And there is nothing that we won’t do, there’s no step we’re not going to take to ensure the safety and the security of people’s data within that system.”
Tangherlini said GSA is testing changes to the system and will continue to keep users informed. “I am incredibly concerned about it, and the good news is that everyone in the organization is incredibly concerned,” he said of the system’s known security flaw.
The vulnerability could have compromised sensitive information, including Social Security numbers, of individuals registered in the system, according to GSA.gov. Contractors that use Social Security numbers instead of taxpayer identification numbers could be at greater risk, and those individuals will receive credit monitoring.
The vision for the SAM system is to serve as a single access point for nine procurement systems, but GSA has yet to accomplish that goal. To date, the SAM system includes four of the nine systems and provides access to contractors’ business information, their certifications required to receive federal contractors and grants and which contractors have been suspended and debarred.
In 2008, GSA began consolidating its systems in a effort to reduce costs, eliminate redundancies and improve efficiency.
A March 2012 Government Accountability Office report found that “while GSA has taken some steps to reduce costs, it has not reevaluated the business case for SAM or determined whether it is the most cost-effective alternative.”
The Federal Acquisition Service and Office of the Chief Information Officer are now providing program oversight, following an internal review of all GSA operations last year. Tangherlini has also called for the development, reporting and monitoring of key metrics for the SAM project.
Federal officials are working to streamline the government’s security program for cloud products and services.
A critical part of the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP)mandates that cloud vendors hire a third-party organization to verify they meet federal security requirements. Today, the General Services Administration and the National Institute of Standards and Technology must first approve those third party-organizations, or 3PAOs. Then there’s the task of monitoring the performance of the 3PAOs and recommending whether to renew or revoke their status.
In a request for information to industry, GSA asked for input on how to privatize the accreditation process for 3PAOs. As FedRAMP evolves into a fully operational program within the next month or two, GSA is identifying ways to scale the program and get more cloud contractors through the FedRAMP process.
To date, there are 16 companies designated as approved 3PAOs, but that number is expected to increase. Only two vendors have completed the FedRAMP process.
GSA wants to contract with a privatized board to accredit 3PAOs, based on program standards. GSA wants industry to comment on the evaluation process for 3PAOs and how long those companies should have to comply with new accreditation standards. Those responses are due Feb. 26.
Dan Tangherlini, acting administrator of the General Services Administration, has appointed Michael Casella as the agency’s new chief financial officer, according to a Feb. 13 blog post.
Casella managed the development and humanitarian assistance budget at USAID and has worked at the Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department.
“This experience promises to provide us with significant insights into the needs of our customers,” Tangherlini said.
The General Services Administration saw the resignation or firing of top leadership in April after an inspector general report detailed nearly $823,000 in wasteful spending at a 2010 conference in Las Vegas.
Tangherlini said Casella is part of a new team that will help the agency refocus on customer service and saving agencies money.
The General Services Administration announced another 60-day round of public comment Tuesday on which green building certifications the federal government should use.
GSA is required every five years to evaluate green building certifications for government use and make recommendations to the Energy Department about which systems to use. The Energy Department will then choose any combination of standards that best fit the government’s needs.
The Energy Department has avoided picking one certification standard so far. In 2010, the agency proposed a rule that would allow agencies to use any third-party standard that met Energy Department criteria.
GSA has been under fire from lawmakers, industry groups and advocacy organizations with a stake in which certification system is used.
“GSA would like to hear more from the public, stakeholders, and experts before we develop a formal recommendation on the government’s use of green building certification systems,” said Dan Tangherlini, GSA Acting Administrator.
Today, the government’s primary measuring stick is the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system, which scores how green a building is based on everything from its construction materials to its proximity to mass transit. Buildings can be LEED certified or achieve even higher degrees of greenness at the LEED Silver, Gold or Platinum levels.
The General Services Administration, which manages most of the government’s non-defense building projects, requires that all buildings it builds be LEED Gold certified. Other federal agencies occasionally use another standard: the Green Building Initiative’s “Green Globes” system.
GSA is currently evaluating LEED, Green Globes and the International Living Future Institutes Living Building Challenge and can recommend one system, multiple systems or none, according to the agency.
“This review has been open to an extensive public process, and an additional comment period will assist us in making a final recommendation for the next five years,” Tangherlini said.
The top official at the General Services Administration said in a blog post Monday that the agency’s priorities in 2013 will be to save agencies money, become more environmentally friendly and expand opportunities for small businesses.
Acting administrator Dan Tangherlini took over the post on April 2 after the publication of a GSA inspector general report detailing wasteful spending at a $823,000 conference in Las Vegas and the ouster of the agency’s leadership.
Tangherlini said in a blog post published Monday that the agency will focus on six areas in 2013, including:
Saving agencies money by expanding its strategic sourcing initiative — where agencies are required to purchase categories of goods together — and by cutting real estate costs.
Simplifying its processes and procedures to make it easier for agencies to use GSA services.
Encouraging the use of small businesses at GSA and across the government.
Stepping up its sustainability efforts to make the agency more environmentally friendly.
Promoting a flexible and open workplace that will shrink the federal real estate footprint and save agencies on leasing costs.
Providing GSA employees with training and the resources they need and emphasize greater cooperation across the agency.
Tangherlini said he hoped to make GSA a model for integrity and efficiency.
“GSA has a responsibility to the American people to carry out all of our activities, from our biggest purchases to our most routine leases, with integrity and the highest level of performance,” Tangherlini said.
North Carolina-based Autonomic Resources last week became the only firm to complete a new security review process for all federal cloud products and services.
The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) was launched in June to standardize security reviews of commercial cloud products. The program is housed within the General Services Administration.
As part of FedRAMP, a joint board of chief information officers from the Homeland Security and Defense departments and GSA reviewed Autonomic’s cloud offering and whether it met federal security standards. The company had to verify that it met some 300 security requirements, including proof that its systems operators, who have access to systems that provide government services, use two-factor authentication. This requires users to provide two forms of evidence to verify who they are before accessing the systems.
Autonomic is the first cloud vendor to receive a so-called provisional authority to operate (ATO) from the joint board of CIOs. The provisional ATO proves a vendor’s cloud services not only meet federal baseline standards, but also are secure enough for use by DHS, DOD and GSA.
The provisional ATOs are expected to speed adoption of cloud services throughout government because other agencies can accept the FedRAMP reviews and assess only their unique security requirements, as opposed to starting from scratch. “By using FedRAMP and eliminating redundant security assessments, agencies can save an estimated $200,000 per authorization,” GSA’s Dave McClure said in a statement.
By now, the administration had hoped to complete at least three FedRAMP reviews. In September, McClure said one challenge is that many vendors don’t understand federal security requirements.
The joint board expects to issue additional ATOs early this year, according to GSA.
By June 2014, all cloud services and products in use at federal agencies or in an active acquisition process must meet FedRAMP requirements. Agencies can use FedRAMP guidelines to vet the security of their own contractors, or wait for FedRAMP reviews to be completed.
The General Services Administration has awarded contracts to 43 small businesses for tablet computers, mobile devices and other common information technology products and services, the agency announced Thursday.
The blanket purchase agreements were awarded through GSA’s National Information Technology Commodity Program and are available to federal, state and local agencies. GSA’s Office of Integrated Technology Services launched the program last year in an effort to procure IT commodities and supplement services for government agencies. The contracts will provide agencies with deeper discounts than those offered on GSA’s Multiple Award Schedules, according to an agency new release.
Other products offered on the contracts include monitors, video teleconference equipment, laptops, desktops, netbooks and data center equipment. Vendors will be able to add new products to the contracts within 24 hours, GSA said.
The General Services Administration has launched an online dashboard to provide agencies and industry with greater access to its contract spending data for planning and budgeting purposes.
The Governmentwide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) Dashboards aggregate non-classified data on federal information technology spending from 2004 to present through GSA’s five GWACs: 8(a) STARS, 8(a) STARS II, Alliant, Alliant Small Business and VETS contracts, GSA announced on Tuesday.
“This tool is especially valuable to small businesses as it provides access to business intelligence they can use to assess market opportunity, decide how best to allocate resources, and identify potential teaming partners for future projects,” GSA Federal Acquisition Service Acting Commissioner Mary Davie, said in a statement.
The dashboard is updated daily and can also help agencies monitor their use of GSA GWACs. It allows users to create customized reports with contracting data sorted by year, contract, federal agency or company.
For example, a quick search of spending data by fiscal year showed that total obligated sales on GSA’s governmentwide contracts has exceeded $218 million, with Alliant sales accounting for nearly half that number.
The website, however, has a disclaimer: “The data contained within may not be fully accurate.”
The General Service Administration awarded this year’s SmartPay 2 Innovation award to the Energy Department for its use of an electronic payment system that will better track individual purchase orders, J.P. Morgan bank announced Thursday.
The Energy Department was the first agency to use J.P. Morgan’s Single-Use Account for SmartPay charge card purchases with CH2M-WG Idaho, one of its major contractors, according to a news release.
Instead of CH2M-WG Idaho using a general account number for all of its charges, the Single-Use Account issued a unique, 16-digit account number for each payment that CH2M-WG made to its vendors. This allowed the contractor to pay its vendors faster, better track where payments are going and increase payment security, according to J.P. Morgan’s global commercial card division.