GAO flags longstanding quality and organizational concerns with DHS OIG

Based on its analysis of the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Government Accountability Office submitted preliminary findings and recommendations to Congress. Audits are taking longer, and the DHS OIG has gone four out of six years without main auditing policies and processes, including a strategic plan. The quality of work at the DHS OIG was also a source of concern for GAO, in part because the office lacked a consistent quality assurance program. Between 2017 and 2018, the DHS Office of Inspector General withdrew 13 reports after an internal investigation raised concerns about whether they met government auditing requirements. The Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency conducted a peer review of the DHS OIG in 2018 and gave it a “Pass with Deficit” ranking for its audit work.

In less than a year, the DHS OIG completed seven of 67 audits. The acting DHS Inspector General, Joseph Cuffari, retained an outside law firm to investigate charges of corruption against three OIG executives. According to the GAO, these are preliminary results from the DHS OIG’s ongoing study. The GAO analysis, according to Currie, was not intended to focus on the past, but rather to expose the root causes of the DHS OIG’s problems. Morale among DHS OIG employees has increased, according to Cuffari, with the most recent findings from the 2020 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey reaching a five-year high within his organization. Currie believes that without a broad strategic plan or concrete policies in place, OIG staff and the public would be left to “Fill in the Gaps” regarding the inspector general’s priorities and why some programs are taken on while others are not.

Several committee members, including Katko, said they wanted to hold more hearings so they could monitor the OIG’s progress.

Author: Emely Rivas

Source: https://federalnewsnetwork.com/agency-oversight/2021/04/gao-flags-longstanding-qualit y-and-organizational-concerns-with-dhs-oig/

Senator to propose wage increase for federal employees

The world is currently in harsh and crucial times. But we still have hard working employees that would work to see the change and greatness of the American country. Employees can often be overlooked even when they are breaking their backs at their designated jobs. With their hard work they still get little pay but Senator Brian Schatz is trying his absolute best to give federal employees a raise in the next year to come. “This time the bill would give civilian federal employees an average 3.2% pay raise in 2022”. This increase in payment will tremendously affect employees. But many challenges have risen in fulfilling this task.

When the Federal Adjustment of Income Rates, or FAIR Act is brought up to congress it gets overshadowed with other problems such as funding for IT modernization for companies, increased federal contracting opportunities for small businesses, and the case of firing Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul and Deputy Commissioner David Black. “From my current seat on the appropriations committee, it’s going to take resources. We’ve dealt with budget caps over the last ten years and when your choice is between programs that impact families and IT systems, sometimes IT systems have not won out.” The government is in a strenuous place of having to choose where the money goes and how to continue budgeting, but people are working hard on letting this legislation be brought to light and getting passed. “Cardin, Van Hollen, Blumenthal, Kaine, Warner, Brown, Hirono, Baldwin, Merkley, Sanders another who sponsored this legislation in an effort to help those who keep the country running every day,”. The FAIR Act assists federal employees that have been damaged to the core by the pandemic where they get the opportunity to rising costs in health care, housing, and higher education.

During such a jarring time, federal employees continued to risk their lives and serve their country even in a global pandemic. They continue to be selfless and active during their duties. Sen. Brian Schatz highlights these key points in justifying why they deserve an increase in pay. The FAIR Act will show these front-line heroes how much they are valued and respected for their work.

Author: Joyce Divo

Source: https://federalnewsnetwork.com/federal-newscast/2021/03/senator-trying-to-give-federal-employees-a-raise-again/

Covid-19 successes set new changes and expectations for federal acquisition community

It is clear, Covid-19 has caused major impacts everywhere, including in the federal acquisition community. The ongoing pandemic has allowed federal acquirers to review their skills and come up with complete and innovative technological implementations that may allow them to succeed in the near future. These new adopted implementations will pave a new way on how they do business within the community. The new level of expectations has skyrocketed over the course of the years. Leaving many to become unsettled.

The Food and Drug Administration’s director, (Andrew Jernell) states, “We have a lot of young people, they’re comfortable with this, and they’re going to want to move and use these tools to procure these things.” There is a large demand for changes within business practices, especially since new tools and resources were discovered and utilized since the oncoming of Covid-19. Despite the changes seen, there obstacles and hurdles to cross. This leads to a bigger rise in demand for new innovation while the fear remains the strategic business goals and growth strategies will not be met by those acquiring businesses.

The following evidence provides additional insight of problems that occurred when trying to find solutions in time. “At the Defense Department, acquisition officials were tasked early in the pandemic with assisting the Department of Health and Human Services with emergency procurements of medical supplies and personal protective equipment. But without deep knowledge of the medical device industry, officials realized they needed new ways to quickly determine which firms could actually fulfill orders and which could not.” Although this difficulty occurred in the end, they were eventually able to find a solution adapting new tools such as commercially-available supply chains that proved to be valuable enough. This solution worked out so greatly that it was adapted as an ongoing strategy.

In the end despite the bombarding issues with Covid-19, federal business acquirers were able to take advantage of this problem and find new ways to reach their goals of success. Adapting new tools and innovations to make changes within businesses. Even though expectations of changes were on the rise many were able to meet these expectations and develop plans that will benefit them greatly in the future.

Author: Robinson, Amiyah

Source: https://federalnewsnetwork.com/contracting/2021/04/covid-19-successes-set-new-expectations-for-federal-acquisition-community/

GSA, DHS to address shortcomings in contractor assessments

In the world of federal contracting, the Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) is well known. For some contractors, their CPARS ratings are critical, as they essentially reflect the quality of work done on government contracts. The General Services Administration and the Department of Homeland Security are taking a look at the process and plan to improve upon it.

According to Mike Smith, a former DHS director, “We think there is a clear appetite for Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS), but contracting officers and industry also know the current CPARS process is broken. I think OFPP hears it from contracting officers that it’s burdensome, and they hear from contractors that it’s not resulting in fair and accurate ratings.” On the other hand, there are many in the industry that believe that contractive officers to not take the time to accurately assess contractors, often grading them satisfactorily due to a desire to lessen their own burden.

GSA and DHS both have different plans to improve the CPARS assessment process. DHS is trying to address these shortcomings by applying artificial intelligence tools to the CPARS process. For GSA, it’s a matter of whether contracting officers pick up on the ability for vendors to provide self-assessments on specific projects. GSA senior procurement executive, Jeff Koses, issued a memo in February promoting the use of vendor self-assessments as one step in the overall CPARS process.

Ultimately, many in the federal contracting industry believe that the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) needs to get more involved. Though GSA and DHS are looking to improve upon the CPARS process, OFPP can issue a government-wide memo on increasing confidence in the CPARS or even steps to take for bettering the process. This initiative will ultimately help small business, as it will help contracting officers feel more comfortable issuing awards based on increased accuracy and confidence in these assessments.

Author: Paul McVeigh

Source: https://federalnewsnetwork.com/reporters-notebook-jason-miller/2021/04/gsa-dhs-making-big-push-to-address-shortcomings-in-contractor-assessments/

DoD Worries: Supply Chain, Heavy Spending, Fewer Prime Contractors

The following is a summary of a conversation between Senior Bloomberg reporter Travis Tritten and Tom Temlin of Federal Drive:

It is said that over the last decade, there has been kind of this stunning decline in the number of prime vendors out there. A 36% decrease. You have also seen the defense budget climb pretty significantly. Defense spending is up 18%. And what we’ve seen is that the bottom lines of companies are growing. A smaller pool of companies are getting a bigger piece of the Pentagon’s funding pie.

We don’t have the indigenous, domestic technical ability that we need as the military adopts these cutting-edge technologies, like artificial intelligence. The military is trying to modernize and it needs this tech know-how, what you find a lot in these midsize and smaller companies, to accomplish this type of modernization. They are finding it harder and harder to get these companies on board. Therefore, it has created a system that is weak, you don’t have the technical know-how and also you have fewer companies competing for contracts. This creates challenges with the lack of competition that keeps prices down. Resulting in taxpayers paying more for these contracts.

Manufacturing is really the hard problem of the defense industrial base. You saw the last acquisition chief as she was leaving, in January, she warned about the offshoring of U.S. manufacturing, right. This is a huge long-term trend. The United States has lost a lot of these domestic abilities, these manufacturing capabilities. This is a difficult problem, because it’s much greater than just the Pentagon, although the Pentagon suffers greatly.

Biden has his deputy defense secretary in place, Kathleen Hicks, and she has mentioned that she is concerned about the consolidation of the defense industrial base. One of the issues for the Biden administration, is they do not have their top people in place yet. We’re still waiting for nominees and for a Pentagon acquisition chief to be named. That is the true point person in the department for these types of issues. It is believed at this point the administration does not have a fully executable game plan that is fully formed. This is going to be a pressing issue, and they’re going to need to get on it once they get somebody in place.

The reason that this is so concerning is because we depend on a lot of this stuff from China. And China is our main competitor, as the Pentagon always says it’s the pacing threat. When you have your main competitor in the world, who has the capability of producing this stuff, and you’re dependent on it for your defense supply chain and puts you in a really difficult situation, strategically, that’s just untenable. It’s something that needs to be addressed. There has been this rising alarm over and over of China’s involvement in the supply chain.

Author: Patrina Philips

Source: https://federalnewsnetwork.com/contractsawards/2021/03/dod-top-brass-worried-about-supply-chain-amidst-heavy-spending-fewer-prime-contracts/

2020 NDAA and Human Capital Management

As per the request in the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a new report from the National Academy of Public Administration, “Elevating Human Capital: Reframing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Leadership Imperative,”is on target. Government needs to invest continually in improving its human capital management policies and practices. The payoff will be improved agency performance and the gains could be significant.

      Human capital management is more than implementing laws and regulations, and more than policies or practices. It happens every workday and impacts the lives of employees and their families. When employees feel they are disrespected or not valued, they look for new employers. Those who feel locked in, often become disengaged, some even destructive. The factors that influence how employees feel about their work experience include the messages from leaders and interactions with local managers, not the policies announced by the HR office.

      Businesses should be looking to the government as a model. The latest idea on business websites is that when employers emphasize their purpose, it helps with recruiting and engaging top talent. The subject has been discussed at the World Economic Forum and by the Business Roundtable. To state what should be obvious: Agencies were created to serve a societal purpose. The best source to understand the importance of purpose is a 2010 book The Why of Work, by the highly regarded organization consultant, David Ulrich and his psychologist wife, Wendy Ulrich.

      The importance of purpose is clear in the scenes of hospital staff saying goodbye to patients treated successfully for COVID. Their satisfaction is almost palpable. We saw the celebration of the mission crew when Perseverance landed on Mars. The satisfaction from federal accomplishments is frequently displayed in movies and TV shows. The challenge of tackling problems and the anticipated gratification of success contributes to better performance. High performing organizations have employees who embrace the importance of their work. Those organizations celebrate achievements throughout the year. It builds collaboration and esprit de corps, contributing to better performance.

     Government performance also plays a role in recruiting and retaining talent. Careers in government have always attracted a segment of young job seekers but many more would be attracted if agencies were valued by the public for their accomplishments. When agencies are respected for their service to the public, it enhances the way everyone views the organization, including career counselors, professors, and parents. Rebuilding is more than numbers; it is about attracting and engaging top talent.

Author: Patrina Philips

Source: https://www.govexec.com/management/2021/03/business-case-investing-human-capital-management/172791/

GSA has Opportunity to lead Federal Climate Change Initiative.

The federal government is the nation’s largest employer and its largest energy consumer. The U.S. has rejoined the Paris Agreement which aims to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius. President Biden wants the public sector to be an example for environmental sustainability. Due to the building and construction industries accounting for more than a third of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions, one of the biggest ways to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint is with real estate. Fortunately for the General Services Administration (GSA), they have a head start.

“Since 2013, GSA has successfully reduced its total inventory by 7 million rentable square feet (RSF), reducing its footprint from 378 million RSF to 371million RSF in 2020.” Stated by an agency spokesperson in an email to Federal News Network. “Over the last 15 years, GSA has made substantial progress improving our buildings’ energy efficiency and space utilization through investments in new and existing facilities, technologies, and operational best practice adoption.” Agencies must submit draft action plans to the new National Climate Task Force and the Federal Chief Sustainability Officer within the next three months. Those plans should describe steps agencies can take to make facilities more resilient to climate change impacts.

The environmental impact of federal real property, as well as government procurement power, are just some components in Biden’s wide-ranging Jan. 27 Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The EO proposes a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035, and clean and zero-emission vehicles for all government fleets, including the Postal Service. This is notable because 36% of federal energy consumption comes from more than 350,000 buildings, while about 60% comes from vehicles and equipment, according to the Energy Department’s Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP). The EO directs the White House Council on Environmental Quality and the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council to make sure contractors pay more attention to reducing carbon emissions. 

“Action plans should, among other things, describe the agency’s climate vulnerabilities and describe the agency’s plan to use the power of procurement to increase the energy and water efficiency of United States government installations, buildings and facilities and ensure they are climate-ready. Agencies shall consider the feasibility of using the purchasing power of the federal government to drive innovation and shall seek to increase the federal government’s resilience against supply chain disruptions,” the EO reads. Whatever is left after operating expenses can go to construction, repairs or major renovations of federal buildings – the kinds of projects needed to improve energy efficiency and sustainability. Because the easier fixes, such as more environmentally friendly lighting, are largely done, he said.

GSA, in particular, has reduced its leased footprint by 10.4 million square feet since October 2014, the agency spokesperson said. During his time at PBS, Mathews said their strategy revolved around two things: Reducing total square footage and getting real estate at a better price. To do this, PBS prioritized leasing first and GSA’s overall portfolio second. “We went after leasing first, because when you lease, you have access to private capital through your lease. So, you leverage, with your annual lease payment, significant amounts of private capital to restructure your lease portfolio – the portfolio the federal government consumes in the private market,” he said. “As a result, we’re avoiding over $4 billion in lease costs that – because of the transactions we put in place when we were there, by reducing the size of that lease portfolio. Along with that smaller footprint is less energy consumption.”

Author: Patrina Philips

Source: https://federalnewsnetwork.com/green-buildings/2021/03/building-back-greener-gsa-has-prime-opportunity-to-lead-federal-climate-change-initiative/

Biden’s Made in America: Federal Contracting Outlook

With a new administration comes new policies. Most federal contractors are familiar with this and have been gearing up to ready themselves for whatever these new policies may throw at them. With the “Made in America” executive order issued by President Biden on his fifth day in office, contractors are still wondering what implications this may have on their businesses.

The notion of buying American is nothing new for the country. In fact, this new executive order builds on current laws—the Buy American and Buy America statutes, passed in 1933 and 1982, respectively. These laws have not been updated since 1954 according to a fact-sheet issued by the White House. Looking back, the extent to which the government and its contractors were to give preference to American sourcing has been blurry and has reportedly not been closely followed.

The federal government spends roughly $600 million annually in contracting, so defining these practices related to buying American can have a significant impact on contractors and the country at large. Specifically, the executive order said that within 180 days, the FAR Council should consider: replacing the “component test” (which says that over 50% of a product’s cost must have a domestic origin), increasing the numerical threshold for domestic content requirements for construction materials and end products, and increasing the price preferences for domestic construction materials and end products. “At this point it’s very hard for contractors to predict and make any supply chain adjustments because we just don’t know what this test is going to look like,” said Adelicia Cliffe, partner at the law firm Crowell and Moring.

Biden has also issued executive orders on using federal procurement to advance racial equity and support for underserved communities, tackle the climate crisis and to order a review of the U.S. supply chain. We will continue to monitor these developments.

Author: Paul McVeigh

Source: https://www.govexec.com/management/2021/02/how-bidens-made-america-executive-order-could-impact-federal-contractors/172259/

NITAAC to release CIO-SP4 contract to include large and small contractors

In the next few weeks, in mid-to-late March, the National Institutes of Health IT Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) will announce the $40 billion CIO-SP4 contract and award spots to as many as 450 large and small contractors by early 2022. Brian Goodger, CIO-SP4 program manager and NITAAC acting director, said he expects to receive more than 1,000 bids, due on 30 April.

Knowing the success of the GWAC and protests could easily postpone its adoption, Goodger said NITAAC plans to overcome any potential concerns as early as possible in the assessment process.

NITAAC will also look at the past performance of bidders during phase 3 and the pricing of labor categories and any other significant documents.

“Because of that phased approach, again, we expect to be able to narrow down the competition so much that there won’t be too many protests at the end. So many companies would have already been eliminated and would have been notified six, nine months prior. We were really optimistic about the phased approach, and specifically about that self-scoring sheet because we’ve had a couple of meetings with industry where a couple of companies have recognized that knowing that their score at an early stage might not be good enough to really compete would be good.” (Miller).

Goodger said NITAAC agreed in several industry days and other meetings on the page limits for the technical proposal and business proposal after hearing from the industry over the last year that the criteria for longer proposals were too burdensome.

Goodger said he expects the bulk of protest delays to occur in phases one or two, with a much smaller chance of phase three protests.

“Another reason we’ve moved to the phased approach is that although the offerors will submit everything in total upfront. The phased approach allows NITAAC the opportunity to notify them immediately after the conclusion of each phase of whether or not they’ve advanced to the next phase. And in doing so, we will be able to start any protest clock immediately with those that did not make it from phase one to phase two. Likely some of them will protest, but we will work with those protests commensurate with our evaluation in phase two. The evaluation will continue as any protests come in.” (Miller).

Author: Emely Rivas

Source: Miller, Jason. “NITAAC details timing, evaluation plans for $40B IT services contract.” Federal News Network, 22 February 2021, https://federalnewsnetwork.com/contractsawards/2021/02/nitaac-details-timing-evaluation-plans-for-40b-it-services-contract/. Accessed 24 February 2021.