Federal Times Blogs

Combat trauma training practices under scrutiny

Bookmark and Share

Members of Congress are calling for a federal investigators to look into a defense contractor’s use of animals in training exercises.

The group asked the Government Accountability Office to investigate Tier 1 Group for “live tissue training,” which uses animals to train service members on the treatment of combat-related injuries.

The Agriculture Department issued a warning to Tier 1 last month after previously citing the company for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act during training exercises in May and last August. The company did not use the right type of anesthesia on live animals during a training exercise and did not properly monitor animals to ensure that the drugs did not wear off during the exercise, according to USDA documents.

One of the citations was prompted by a fairly graphic video released by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), an animal rights advocacy group, showing training participants cutting limbs off goats with tree trimmers and stabbing them with scalpels under the direction of Tier 1, members said in the Sept. 11 letter.

During the training, goats are seen moving or moaning, and participants ask for more anesthetic. While participants are not wearing military uniforms, PETA says it received the video from a whistleblower within the Coast Guard.

Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif. and one of the 11 members who signed the letter, sponsored a bill that would phase out the military’s use of live animals in trauma training and require the use of human-based simulation models. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.

Given Tier 1’s past violations, the company may have violated the terms of previous military contracts, members said.  They also believe there may be enough evidence to terminate a $1.7 million Navy training contract awarded to the company in May and permanently debar the company.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Federal procurement officials dispel industry myths

Bookmark and Share

Building on an effort to improve communications between federal agencies and industry about government contracts, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy released part two of its “Myth-Busting” campaign to address misconceptions from industry.

The memo reiterates the importance of ”early, frequent and constructive engagement with industry,” especially for high-risk procurements and large information technology projects, that former OFPP administrator Dan Gordon introduced in a memo last year. That memo directed agencies to share more information with contractors.

Here are four of the eight myths OFPP listed in its memo, which was released today by Acting Administrator Lesley Field:

Myth: “The best way to present my company’s capabilities is by marketing directly to contracting officers and/or signing them up for my mailing list.”

Fact: Instead of sending contracting officers and program managers information they may not need, vendors should attend industry days, pre-solicitation conferences and vendor forums that agencies hold for specific upcoming contracts or growth areas. More of these opportunities have been added to the FedBizOpps website.

Myth: “It is a good idea to bring only business development and marketing people to meetings with the agency’s technical staff.”

Fact: Agencies want to know where a company’s capabilities fit in the marketplace and what technology they are bringing, which are usually better addressed by the technical experts at a company.

Myth: “Agencies generally have already determined their requirements and acquisition approach so our impact during the pre-RFP phase is limited.”

Fact: Agencies spend a great deal of effort collecting and analyzing information about what is available in the marketplace.  They are looking for specific information from companies about what works, what doesn’t, and how it can be improved.

Myth: “Agencies have an obligation not to share information about their contracts, such as prices, with other agencies, similar to the obligation they have not to disclose proprietary information to the public.”

Fact: Agencies can and should disclosure of information regarding existing contracts between agencies to help ensure the government is getting the best value for taxpayers.

Tags: , , , , ,

Proposed whistleblower protections for contract employees passes committee

Bookmark and Share

A Senate bill that would give federal contract employees the same whistleblower protections as federal employees passed the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today.

Senate bill 241, introduced by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would protect contractors who report improper spending or management on federal contracts from retaliation.

Contract employees who witness contract fraud currently can bring a civil claim, in the name of the government, against contractors under the False Claims Act. If the claim is successful, the whistleblower could receive up to 30 percent of the recovered funds.

However, the False Claims Act does not protect whistleblowers who witness waste, mismanagement and other illegal activities, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) said in a statement Wednesday. POGO and other government accountability groups voiced support for the bill earlier this week.

“These contractors are on the front lines and often put themselves at great personal risk to protect the public and expose waste,” POGO said. “This new act would bridge the gaps in current coverage, and comprehensively apply best-practice protections similar to those in the stimulus to all federal funds recipient whistleblowers.”

Under the bill, contract employees that have been demoted, fired or otherwise discriminated against for reporting contract waste and abuse could submit a complaint to an inspector general. The inspector general would then have 180 days to decide if they want to investigate the complaint. If the complaint is investigated, the inspector general must report the findings to the employee who made the complaint, the complainant’s employer and the head of the government agency holding the contract.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Senators revisit lowering contractor compensation costs

Bookmark and Share

Two senators are making another push to lower how much the government reimburses for contractor compensation costs with a bill introduced late Thursday.

Senate bill 2198, sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, would limit the taxpayer reimbursement for government contractor compensation to the amount of the President’s salary – $400,000. Compensation includes wages, salary, bonuses and deferred compensation. The measure would extend the cap to all government contractor employees.

“The direct taxpayer-funded salaries of government contractors clearly need to be contained,” Sen. Grassley said in a statement. “There’s no justification for these payments to be higher than the salary of the President of the United States.”

Contractors can currently charge agencies up to $693,951 for the compensation of their top five employees, based on a federal executive compensation benchmark. Contractors outside of the top five can earn and be reimbursed for more than that. The cost of reimbursing those salaries shows up in the overhead rates companies charge on contracts.

President Obama asked Congress last year to scrap the formula that sets the reimbursement cap and instead tie it to what the government pays its own top executives, about $200,000. Boxer and Grassley attempted to lower the cap within the National Defense Authorization Act in December but were unsuccessful. The 2012 NDAA that passed extends the current $693,951 salary cap to all defense contractor employees, not just the top five.

Lesley Field, acting administrator of OMB’s Office of Federal Procurement Policy, asked Congress in January to take up the proposal again, calling the amount contractors can charge the government for their executives’ compensation “unjustified and unnecessary.”

Tags: , , , ,

Legislators support Prez disclosure plan

Bookmark and Share

A group of House Democrats sent the President their written support of a draft executive order that would require contractors to disclose what they spend on lobbying and political campaigns.

“Absent public disclosure, there will certainly be some contractors who would seek to influence the awarding of contracts through unreported political contributions,” says the letter, dated June 2 and signed by 25 members. “By requiring contractors to disclose such contributions, you will help to prevent the temptation to engage in inappropriate and illegal behavior.”

Another group of primarily Republican senators have sent letters and issued statements in opposition of the proposed order, leaked in April. They say it would politicize the procurement process and silence the political speech of anyone who wants to do business with the government.

An amendment to the House-passed National Defense Authorization Act also preempts the order by precluding agencies from requiring that kind of disclosure.

Despite all the letters and commentary on the order, the White House has remained quiet about when, if ever, it will be issued.

Tags: , ,

This means war

Bookmark and Share

Buildup over a draft executive order that would require contractors to disclose their political contributions has led one voice for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to mimic the President’s charge in Libya.

“We will fight it through all available means,” the Chamber of Commerce’s top lobbyist R. Bruce Josten told the New York Times Tuesday. In a reference to the White House’s battle to depose Libya’s leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, he said, “To quote what they say every day on Libya, all options are on the table.”

The proposal, leaked last week by a former Federal Election Commission official, would require companies bidding for government work to disclose in their proposals all political contributions made by the company, its Political Action Committee and its senior executives over the prior two years.

Companies would also have to include contributions made to third-party organizations that could use those donations for political advertising.

The order says it seeks to “increase transparency and accountability” by addressing the perception that political campaign spending provides special access to or favoritism in the contracting process.

So what exactly are those options that the Chamber and other critics could use?

Meredith McGehee, policy director at the Campaign Legal Center, said there are two pressure points — the courts or Congress.

Several Republican leaders seem ready to draft a bill overturning the order (if it’s ever issued). Twenty five Republican senators signed off on a letter that raised concerns about politicizing the contracting process and silencing political activity among contracting corporations.

And if this battle was waged at the Supreme Court level, it would be interesting to see if judges maintain their support of campaign finance disclosure or if this particular type of disclosure would fall under other areas that they have deemed protected.

Some of the questions being raised have very little to do with the details of disclosure rules but on the President’s intent. Opponents ask if he seriously considers pay-to-play as large a problem in Washington as we’ve seen in states or does he want to know who is financing his political opponents?

If he’s seeking transparency, President Obama would have to show how this disclosure won’t give Democratic supporters extra pull with awards. It probably wouldn’t hurt to also call out some of the serious contracting favoritism that his order would fix.

Just as last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court case, which protected corporate donations to political organizations, drove millions of dollars into the 2010 elections, this order may set off a different kind of firestorm, said Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics and a former Federal Election Commission chairman. Obama’s effort could backfire, he said, and instead of silencing his opponents, he may incite them to fight back with their wallets.

Tags: , , , ,