Federal Times Blogs

Contract flaws found in GSA Disney trip

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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.

Memo to frequent fliers: Share your tips

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Are you a seasoned federal traveler with a suitcase full of tips?

Do you know how to save on checked bag fees and do you always know the best hotels at per diem?


If you would like share some of your tips and advice with our readers, or have any other suggestions on how to beat the airport rush, please email me at opawlyk@gannettgov.com or feel free to post in the comment section below.

GSA virtual meeting centers open to agencies

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The General Services Administration’s 15 virtual meetings centers are finally open for business after months of delays.

In the face of shrinking travel budgets, GSA is encouraging agencies to reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions by meeting virtually.

The telepresence centers, which opened earlier this month, cost $399 per hour per location, comparable to the price of public telepresence rooms. Public meeting rooms usually cost between $400 and $450 an hour, said Mark Barounos, CEO for Colorado-based Telepresence World.

GSA contracted with AT&T to create the centers at its 11 regional headquarters offices – in Boston; New York City; Philadelphia; Atlanta; Chicago; Kansas City, Mo.; Fort Worth, Texas; Denver; San Francisco; Auburn, Wash.; and Washington, D.C. – including four Washington-area offices.

Each center has high-definition television screens, advanced audio equipment and collaboration tools. Most centers have a capacity of 6 people, but a few can accommodate 14, according to gsa.gov.

AT&T projects that its technology will reduce carbon emissions by 112,000 metric tons this year and 155,000 metric tons in 2011, according to its website.

Agencies can register to use the meeting rooms by calling: 855- 437-9307.



GSA to create virtual meeting centers

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Starting early next year, federal agencies will have access to telepresence centers at General Services Administration buildings across the country.

The technology will initially span across 14 GSA buildings including 11 regional offices and central offices, GSA Administrator Martha Johnson told reporters today at the Executive Leadership Conference in Williamsburg, Va.

“People appear much more life like” and “they engage in eye contact with each other,” said Johnson about the new technologies. “The sound really works, and you feel as if you’re sitting at the same table even though you’re sitting virtually.”

The systems will be set up in rooms throughout select buildings, and services will be offered to other federal agencies using a scheduling system, she said.

Rooms will likely include three high-resolution screens, and a half-circle table with chairs designated for each screen or a stadium style seating arrangement, said Michael Robertson, GSA chief of staff.  “It creates the illusion that users are at the same table. It’s the next level in video conferencing.”

Specific details about the costs and the contract amount were not readily available, but Johnson said “pricing will be such that people will think twice about getting on a plane.”

AT&T is going to manage and develop the virtual network under GSA’s Networx Enterprise contract.

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A hearing about nothing

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sienfeldTuesday’s meeting of the House Armed Services subcommittee on oversight and investigations started to resemble an episode of “Seinfeld” after a while, as Congressmen became obsessed with parsing the difference between a “continental breakfast” and a “light snack.”

David Fisher, head of DoD’s Business Transformation Agency, offered a convoluted distinction between the two from the rules that govern defense travel, to illustrate the complexity of those regulations.

Committe chairman Vic Snyder, an Arkansas Democrat, came up with his own definition. “I think if you stay on your feet it’s light refreshments, if you sit down it’s a continental breakfast,” he declared.

“We’ll have to adjudicate that,” Fisher remarked dryly.

Read the rest of this entry »

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No more texting and driving, feds

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The federal government wants you to do this.

The federal government wants you to do this.

If you’re a federal employee, you can no longer text while driving on company time.

President Obama issued an Oct. 1 executive order banning federal employees from texting while driving for work, and that order took effect Wednesday. The order bans feds from using government-supplied electronics while driving, as well as texting while driving government-owned vehicles or while driving privately-owned vehicles on official government business.

Federal contracts are encouraged to adopt their own policies banning texting behind the wheel.

More than 4 million federal employees will be banned from texting on company time, according to a Transportation Department news release. Some agencies had a head start in banning texting: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood ordered all 58,000 agency employees to comply immediately with the president’s executive order.

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Turkeys can fly!

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Despite the experience of a certain Cincinnati radio station (see below), it turns out that turkeys can fly…just as long as they’re on an airplane.

That’s the word from TSA, which has posted a list of holiday travel tips on its blog. Turkeys are permitted carry on items. As are pies (mmm…pie). The complete list of food related dos and don’ts is as follows:

Foods: Pies are permitted, but they are subject to additional screening if our officers see any anomalies. (Additional screening of pies does not include our officers tasting the pie, no matter what they tell you…) Cakes, bread, donuts, turkeys, etc. are all permitted. If it’s a live turkey, you might want to have a word with the airline. Here is a list of items that should be placed in your checked bags or shipped: cranberry sauce, creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.), gift baskets with food items (salsa, jams and salad dressings), gravy (mmm gravy), jams, jellies, maple syrup, oils and vinegars, sauces, soups, wine, liquor and beer.

For those of you who think turkeys can fly under their own power, please view the following regarding WKRP’s famed turkey drop (via YouTube).

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OMG! Prez bans txting while drving

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Feds, put down those BlackBerries. At least while you’re behind the wheel.

President Barack Obama issued an executive order today that bans federal employees from using their cell phones, BlackBerries or other electronic devices to send or receive text messages, read e-mails or perform other electronic tasks while driving .

The order applies to employees behind the wheel of government owned or leased vehicles or those driving their own vehicles while on government business. Agencies also were instructed to encourage federal contractors to enforce similar polices on their own workforces.

Obama issued the order to coincide with a Washington summit organized by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on the dangers of text messaging and other distractions while driving.

The number of crashes attributed to distracted drivers nationally has risen during the past five years, even though the number of crashes overall has dropped, and accounted for 16 percent of crashes and fatalities in 2008, Transportation statistics show.

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Get ready for transition…to SmartPay2

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Attention government travelers, buyers and drivers: You may be immersed in the presidential transition (and have plans to flee work for the holiday weekend), but don’t forget this weekend is another transition…to the new government purchase, travel and fleet charge cards.

At 11:59 p.m. Nov. 29 your old SmartPay cards will be useless, so be sure to have the new cards at the ready. That’s what David Shea, director of the General Services Administration’s SmartPay 2 program, tells us here at FedLine.

Shea has these tips for feds who may be working this holiday weekend and need to use their cards:

  • Activate the new card in advance of the Nov. 29 deadline.
  • If you are going on travel, bring both cards with you to avoid getting stuck with an inactive card.
  • Have the number for your agency’s card manager handy in case you run into trouble.

Shea expects that there will be few problems with transition this weekend. The last agencies to make their choice of card providers did so back in July, meaning there was plenty of time for cards to arrive and new accounting systems to be installed. Also, the holiday weekend means there will be little activity over the transition period.

But with more than 3 million purchase, travel and fleet cards mailed to federal employees across the nation, there are likely to be some hiccups along the way, Shea said. That’s why he and his staff will be on call all weekend to put out any major card-related fires.

FedLine suspects he’ll also be collecting the wishbone from his Thanksgiving turkey for luck.

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Create your own inaugural ball

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I just discovered the most outlandish thing I’ve seen in quite some time.

JW Mariott is offering a “build your own inaugural ball” package for the three-day weekend for the mere sum of $1 million at its 14th and Pennsylvania hotel. Here’s what you’d get for your bucks:

• Two Presidential Suites
• Two Vice Presidential Suites
• 300 guest rooms
• $200,000 in food and beverage
• Private access to the 12th floor balcony under a heated framed tent
• Custom tailored events to fit 450 people
• 24-hour Red Coat Service™
• 5% of proceeds will be donated to the Amazona Sustainable Foundation

Oh yeah, and it’s non-refundable. Sorry ’bout that.

Will anyone do it? I’d surely be surprised if they did. But as a marketing move, it’s brilliant: after all, it gets people talking about the brand. Plus it makes other hotels for that holiday weekend seem cheap!

If you have friends coming to the District for the inauguration and want something more reasonable, check out this great Web site for hotels here. The Destination DC site lists plenty of hotels and prices for your perusal, and it includes lots of details about the ceremony and parade.