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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.

White House launches dashboard on infrastructure projects

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Another day, another dashboard. One of the Obama administration’s hallmarks has been its fondness for such online tracking tools and a new one debuted this week to follow the status of major highway, housing and other “high priority infrastructure projects.” The site allows visitors to see where such projects stand in regard to federal permitting and environmental reviews. It follows a call from Obama this summer for agencies to handle those reviews more efficiently in the interest of putting people back to work.

The site currently list 14 projects, ranging from a New York bridge replacement to the removal of barriers that keep the endangered Southern California steelhead trout from reaching upstream spawning grounds. Agency contacts are listed by name; the new dashboard will allow the public to learn “exactly where  a project is in the review process, and who to contact if it is delayed,” Jeffrey Zients, deputy director at the Office of Management and Budget, wrote in an official blog post.


Feds, industry talk cyber, healthcare and procurement

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I’ve heard several remedies in the past few days for curing government’s acquisition woes.

The latest: turn the tables and create an industry scorecard for government’s past performance on acquisitions. At least that’s what one fed proposed during the Executive Leadership Council CXO Roundtable event on Tuesday.

The candid discussion among nearly 500 feds and industry covered healthcare, cybersecurity and consolidation issues facing government.

Here are some of the results from a poll conducted at the event:

- 53 percent think the implementation of meaningful use requirements (financial incentives and rewards for meaningful use of certified electronic health records) will increasingly challenge healthcare over the next several years.

- 53 percent said that to a very large extent extreme oversight causes a culture of fear that stifles innovation and risk taking in favor of compliance and cost, preventing agencies from taking advantage of new business models.

- 37 percent said a strained acquisition workforce is the major acquisition challenge blocking initiatives that are important to the organization’s success.

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Overhauled MMS slaps $5.2 million fine on BP

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The revamped Minerals Management Service is wasting no time showing the oil and natural gas industry that a new day has dawned.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement — created last month in the wake of April’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico — assessed a $5.2 million civil penalty on BP America for submitting “false, inaccurate and misleading reports” about energy production on Southern Ute Indian Tribal lands in southwestern Colorado, bureau director Michael Bromwich said today.

BP reported incorrect royalty rates and prices to the department and also attributed oil and gas production to the wrong leases, according to an Interior news release. The penalty is not related to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The agency’s investigation preceded creation of the new bureau in May, Bromwich said this morning at a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee. Still, Bromwich said the fine is indicative of the type of hard line the bureau intends to take against companies that try to cheat the government out of money it’s entitled to receive.

It does reflect a seriousness of purpose and an intent to be aggressive in pursuing a company’s violations of royalties and other issues.

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Did porn addiction cause the financial crisis?

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Nero fiddled as Rome burned; SEC staffers watched porn as the economy crashed.

A new report from the agency’s inspector general revealed a startling proclivity for sexually graphic materials among certain SEC staffers.

The SEC’s inspector general conducted 33 “probes” — yes, that’s the word the Associated Press chose to use, and yes, I am twelve years old — of SEC officials, including 17 “at a senior level.”

One senior attorney spent up to eight hours a day viewing and downloading pornography on the job, burning files to CDs and DVDs that he kept around his office. An accountant was blocked more than 16,000 times in a month from visiting illicit websites, yet still built a collection of “very graphic” material by using Google Images to get around the SEC’s internal filter.

AP quotes Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, as saying it is “disturbing that high-ranking officials within the SEC were spending more time looking at porn than taking action to help stave off the events that put our nation’s economy on the brink of collapse.”

OK, but if they were spending their time watching reruns of “Jersey Shore” or something, is this such a big story? And which is more unhealthy? Discuss in the comments.

Oh, by the way, Nero committed suicide in A.D. 68, under siege by critics of his tax policies. Just saying.

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Cass Sunstein on the limits of open government

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Cass Sunstein, the Obama administration’s “regulatory czar,” gave a speech at the Brookings Institution this afternoon. Regular readers are probably familiar with most of its content — the open government directive, OMB’s dashboards for transparency and  IT projects. But Sunstein made a couple of interesting points on the limits of open government initiatives.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Defense finalizes interagency contracting rules

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Earlier, I mentioned that the Government Printing Office continued to churn out key publications that enable the business of government, such as the Federal Register, despite the snow closures in the D.C. area.

Thanks to the dedicated GPO workers who braved poor roads and spotty public transportation service, Defense procurement officials — and the civilian agencies they buy from — have clear and final guidance on how to carry out interagency contracting deals.

Today’s Federal Register includes the final version of an interim rule published in July. The rule, which was mandated by the 2008 Defense authorization bill, allows DoD to buy goods and services from non-Defense-agency contracts only if:

  • The non-Defense agency promises to follow DoD procurement rules.
  • DoD’s undersecretary for acquisition, technology and logistics agrees the interagency purchase is in the department’s “best interest.”

The rule applies to purchases over the $100,000 simplified acquisition threshold.

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At GPO, the presses go, even in snow

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With D.C. offices in their fourth day of closures (check back later to see if it will be a five-day sweep), the business of government marches on. And that includes publications from the Government Printing Office, many of which are needed to implement new policies and regulations.

Although most D.C. federal offices were closed this week, GPO reports more than 200 of its workers “braved the elements to print important materials for the White House and Congress.” Among the key publications they ensured went out on time, the Economic Report of the President, the Congressional Record and the Federal Register, according to a Feb. 11 GPO news release.


Past Performance Proposal

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The folks who draw up the Federal Acquisition Regulation have issued their proposal to enact a section of the 2009 Defense authorization meant to ensure a contractor’s poor past performance is not overlooked during the contract award process.

The proposed rule published in today’s Federal Register creates a new database called the “Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System,” or FAPIIS for short. Contracting officers will be required to use this centralized database when making contract and task order awards.

The timing of the proposal couldn’t be better. Last month, acquisition officials answered some tough questions from Congress about how they use — or don’t use — past performance information. The hearings were prompted by two damning Government Accountability Office reports.

In April, GAO reported contracting officials didn’t use the Past Performance Information Retrieval System because its information was outdated, incomplete and unreliable. A May GAO report found contracting officers didn’t tie performance to the award fees paid to contractors for good work.

The proposed FAPIIS database aims to address some of the issues regarding past performance information by tying together information from two existing databases — the Excluded Parties List System and Past Performance Information Retrieval System — and creating  new reporting requirements for government officials and contractors.

Under the proposed rule:

  • Contracting officers will have to report any contract termination for default and any “determination of non-responsibility.” A determination of non-responsibility means the contractor isn’t a responsible vendor because of poor past performance, a lack of integrity or a lack of business ethics.
  • Suspension and debarment officials will have to submit any administrative agreement reached with a contractor to avoid suspension or debarment from government contracting.
  • Contractors with contracts and grants totaling more than $10 million will also have to report on any administrative proceedings against them, in addition to civil and criminal proceedings.

The council will accept comments on the proposed rule until Oct. 5.


OMB to release procurement policies today!

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The Office of Management and Budget will release three policy memos today that promise to reform how government uses contractors.

One memo directs agencies on how to manage the multi-sector workforce. This memo states that agencies don’t have a handle on how contractor employees are used in their offices. It orders agencies to:

  • Coordinate their program, human capital, acquisition and finance offices to strategically plan for outsourcing.
  • Conduct a pilot program to test multi-sector workforce management plans
  • Develop guidelines to insource inherently governmental functions, work that closely supports those functions and work that could be more cheaply performed by federal employees.

A second memo orders agencies to review existing contracts and acquisition practices to “develop a plan that will save 7 percent of baseline contract spending by the end of FY 2011″ and to “reduce by 10 percent the share of dollars obligated in FY 2010 under new contract actions that are awarded with high-risk contracting authorities,” such as cost-reimbursement contracts.  The hope is to save $40 billion governmentwide.

The final memo outlines new a Federal Acquisition Regulation to capture and share more past performance information about government contractors.

OMB is holding a news conference on the new guidance shortly. We’ll have more details for you later on today at FederalTimes.com.