Federal Times Blogs

NASA sets due date for $20B IT contract

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NASA has extended the deadline for bids on its $20 billion Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP) V contract, following last month’s government shutdown.

The agency has extended the due date to Nov. 15, according to an online notice. Originally, companies had until Oct. 14 to bid.

NASA said the 16-day shutdown delayed its response to industry’s questions as well as changes to the solicitation.

The contract will provide agencies with desktops, laptops, servers and other information technology equipment.

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U.S. military’s Afghan HQ opens just in time for possible demolition

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$34 million military building

Photo courtesy, SIGAR

By one estimate, it’s one of the best constructed facilities in Afghanistan, but soon the $34 million military center in Hemland province could be torn down because, well, it turns out troops are leaving and the U.S. government might not have really needed the building in the first place.

Special Office of Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko outlined the scope and history of the expensive problem in a letter this week to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, which you can read about here.

But for a virtual tour of the building’s clean, spacious and barren offices and meeting rooms, the IG’s office has posted a set of photos online.

No doubt, it’s a spacious facility, but there’s just one thing missing: people.

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A background checker’s checkered past

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Ramon Davila is one name in a growing list.

He’s among the nearly two dozen federal background check investigators to face criminal charges in recent years for falsifying his work on investigations performed on contractors and employees seeking government clearances.

But more than year after charging Davila, the Justice Department only just learned that he had a troubling past that went unnoticed during his own background investigation.

It turns out, officials at another federal law enforcement agency decided nearly a decade ago to keep out of his personnel folder serious misconduct findings against Davila stemming from his years as a senior special agent with the Customs Service, records show. In return, Davila agreed to retire.

You can read the story of how Davila’s case fits into the growing backlog of federal background investigator falsification cases here. But for a closer, firsthand look at the misconduct findings against him and how such a settlement deal could have come about in the first place, check out the federal court filing.

Is this sort of exit deal in federal agencies unusual? Or more common than we think?

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GSA IG uncovers Craigslist computer scheme

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An undercover investigation by the General Services Administration’s watchdog office has  traced second-hand computer equipment originally costing the U.S. government about $25 million to more than a dozen sham educational organizations and, ultimately, back to one man: Steven Alexander Bolden.

Federal prosecutors in Tacoma, Wash., earlier this month filed fraud charges against Bolden, saying he tricked the government into believing he represented schools and thus was eligible for access to GSA’s Computers for Learning program.

Under the program, agencies, as permitted by law, can transfer surplus computers and technology equipment to schools and nonprofit educational groups.

The investigation, which was reported on last week by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, began last summer after the IG’s office found 13 nonprofit organizations that received computers through the GSA program. While the groups appeared unaffiliated, they all had ties to Bolden, according to court papers.

“There is probable cause to believe that Bolden engaged in a scheme spanning several years in which he impersonated educational nonprofit organizations into giving him government computers and computer equipment,” prosecutors wrote in an affidavit outlining the probe, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Tacoma, Wash., on May 31.

Charging documents said Bolden received thousands of pieces of computer equipment over the years, keeping it for himself or selling computers through online sales sites such as Craigslist, which was subpoenaed as part of the investigation, records show.

An attorney listed for Bolden listed on the case’s docket did not respond immediately to a phone message Monday.

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Snowden the whistleblower? Not exactly

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Dubbed a traitor by House Speaker John Boehner and yet hailed as a brave whistleblower by Daniel Ellsberg, Edward Snowden’s leaks about National Security Agency data collection techniques have ignited public debate about privacy, security and the scope of U.S. government surveillance activities.

But legally speaking, the 29-year old, self described high school dropout isn’t really a whistleblower: “Whistleblowers are individuals who have engaged in lawful disclosure,” said R. Scott Oswald, managing principal of The Employment Law Group, a DC-based law firm that represents whistleblowers, including some in the intelligence community.

Snowden, however, leaked classified information subject to a court order, which is hardly lawful, Oswald said.

“What Mr. Snowden did here was not protected and was illegal under our laws, so it’s not correct to say he’s a whistleblower in that sense,” Oswald said. “What he is, I think, is a conscientious objector.”

“He has information that he believes is important for the American public to know,” he said. “What he has decided to do is to commit an illegal act in order to have that information disseminated, so he is subject to criminal prosecution.”

The whistleblower distinction is getting closer attention in newsrooms, too. The Huffington Post, citing a memo it obtained, reported Monday that Associated Press standards editor Tom Kent told staff that “whether the actions exposed by Snowden and [WikiLeaks source Bradley] Manning constitute wrongdoing is hotly contested, so we should not call them whistle-blowers on our own at this point.”

Whether he’s a whistleblower or not, one thing is for sure. Snowden is now officially a former Booz Allen employee.

With its famous former employee’s precise whereabouts unknown, Booz Allen on Tuesday released a statement confirming that it fired Snowden over violations to the firm’s policy and code of ethics.

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When contract talks get heated, who’s in charge?

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Time and time again, big contractors went over the heads of General Service Administration contracting officers who were trying to negotiate good prices for the government.

But when it came time to choose, GSA supervisors sided with the contractors.

That’s the conclusion of recent GSA Office of Inspector report that raises troubling questions about the enormous pressure contracting officers can come under from contractors with close ties to managers and even members of Congress.

While GSA says it’s got new management and won’t tolerate such interference nowadays, the bigger questions are whether this sort of thing happens elsewhere, not just in GSA but in other agencies? Do lawmakers get involved? And when negotiations get heated, are contracting officers fully in charge or do contractors have outsized influence?

If there’s more to this story, let me know at jmcelhatton@federaltimes.com or (703) 750-8659.

GSA to launch cloud broker pilot

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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.

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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.

When late isn’t really late

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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.

Interior awards $10 billion cloud contract

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The Interior Department has awarded 10 vendors a spot on its potential $10 billion cloud services contract.

Under the 10-year indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract, vendors will provide a variety of services, including cloud storage, secure file transfer, database hosting, Web hosting, development and testing, and virtual machine services. The latter will allow agencies to create virtual, rather than physical, versions of their servers and virtual desktop capabilities that allow employees to access work documents and applications from any device.

The Foundation Cloud Hosting Services contract was awarded May 1 and will be available to other agencies. The procurement could be worth up to $1 billion for each company.

Most of the winning vendors are also on the General Services Administration’s cloud email and infrastructure services contracts, including Autonomic Resources, CGI, Lockheed Martin, Unysis, IBM, Smartronix, Verizon and AT&T. Global Technology Resources and Aquilent were the other winning vendors.

Interior’s contract has three base years and several option periods through 2023.