FTS buying abuses tied to poor training

'I don't think the FTS problems are widespread, but at the same time, we want to make sure our contracting officers are well trained,' GSA's David Bibb says.

Henrik G. de Gyor

A damning inspector general report on contracting abuses within the Federal Technology Service is indicative of a governmentwide problem, says a former Defense Department acquisition chief.

Insufficient training is the likely culprit in the series of contracting scandals at the General Services Administration, said Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, an Arlington, Va., trade association.

But GSA is not alone in having these problems, he said, because agencies have trouble making sure their contracting staffs are up to speed on the latest law and regulation requirements.

'The work is often very challenging, and the workload is enormous,' said Soloway, a former deputy undersecretary of Defense for acquisition reform. 'The government is struggling internally with management of people and of contracts. These are not bad people, but they are under a tremendous amount of pressure to get the job done.'

In its report released earlier this month, the GSA auditor found that FTS client support centers in three regions breached procurement laws over the last two years. The report summarizes a host of draft reports from the IG about problems in GSA's contracting organizations.

The IG found FTS employees in regions 4, 6 and 10 were working under ineffective management controls and failed to promote adequate competition.

The report focused on contracting practices in the regions covering 23 states, from Alaska to Florida, including the Bremerton, Wash., office, which GSA officials shut down when the allegations surfaced in August.

'The audit identified numerous improper task orders, such as misuse of small business contracts, and ordering work outside the contract scope and outside the scope of the Information Technology Fund,' said John Langeland, GSA IG audit manager for Region 5, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. 'The contracting practices did not provide reasonable assurance that the government received supplies and services at a fair and reasonable price.'

Examiners said FTS employees did not adhere to proper procurement procedures in accommodating customer preferences. For example, they bought floating marine barriers and office construction services although the fund is only for buying IT goods and services.

The IG is reviewing sample procurements from the eight other FTS regions and is expected to issue a report by midsummer, said Eugene Waszily, GSA's director of audits for the IG's office.

GSA has taken steps to improve acquisition training and expects more funding in fiscal 2005.

FTS commissioner Sandy Bates said that since August the service has required employees to take additional training courses in procurement law. It also reorganized its client support offices to promote teamwork and initiated a legal review of all procurement practices.

GSA has established a set of internal controls with acquisition checklists and procurement management reviews for every region, as well.

Congress also authorized the establishment of a civilian acquisition training fund in the fiscal 2004 Defense authorization bill. GSA will collect 5 percent of all fees agencies pay to use governmentwide acquisition contracts, including schedule contracts.

And earlier this month, David Drabkin, GSA's deputy associate administrator for acquisition policy, issued an order detailing acquisition planning procedures.

The memo requires comprehensive acquisition plans for IT services or supplies contracts with values exceeding $20 million. GSA procurement officials also must develop plans for complex, critical and highly visible acquisitions, and all buys worth more than $50 million.

For procurements that do not meet the threshold for a comprehensive plan, contracting officers must develop limited acquisition plans.

'I don't think the FTS problems are widespread, but at the same time, we want to make sure our contracting officers are well trained,' said David Bibb, GSA's deputy administrator. 'We are taking an across-the-agency look at our human resources requirements to make sure we have the right mix of people, the right numbers of contracting officers and the contracting officers are properly trained.'

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