SBA says GSA failed to assess negative impact of office supply contract on small businesses

April 17, 2014 by

The General Services Administration (GSA) failed to assess the negative impact that the Office Supplies 3 (OS3) strategic sourcing contract would have on small businesses, a Small Business Administration (SBA) analysis says.

Under the Small Business Act, agencies must determine whether new consolidated contracts would negatively affect small businesses, and the SBA is tasked with making sure the agencies execute the determination properly.

SBA undertook the analysis at the Government Accountability Office’s request after several small businesses protested to the OS3 request for proposals, saying GSA failed to look into the economic consequences of the businesses who don’t receive an OS3 award. FedNewsRadio posted a copy (pdf) April 7.

In response to the protests, GSA argued that the OS3 contract is a follow-on contract to the OS2 and not a consolidated contract. GSA also said it’s “contrary to law” to provide an economic analysis on the negative impacts a consolidate contract would have on small businesses.

SBA disagrees on both points.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/sba-says-gsa-failed-assess-negative-impact-os3-small-businesses/2014-04-08 

Here comes GSA’s next government-wide telecom contract vehicle

April 16, 2014 by

The General Services Administration’s information technology contracting office is seeking industry feedback on plans for the next governmentwide contract vehicle for telecommunications and related services.

GSA is in the process of developing Network Services 2020, or NS2020, a slate of approved vendors offering everything from basic telephone and data services to niche satellite and infrastructure contracts for federal agencies. The request for information posted April 8, 2014 seeks industry feedback on how GSA should structure that global contracting vehicle.

GSA will begin soliciting bids in fiscal 2015 from vendors who want to be part of the NS2020 contract vehicle, according to the RFI. Contracts with the vendors approved under NS2020 will likely be available for 15 years or for 10 years with five option years, the RFI said.

NS2020 will replace Networx, a similar global contract vehicle for telecom services that’s set to expire soon, but will include a broader suite of services.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.nextgov.com/cio-briefing/2014/04/here-comes-gsas-next-governmentwide-telecom-contract-vehicle/82210/?oref=nextgov_cio_briefing

With budget tightening, disputes over federal contracts increase

April 15, 2014 by

Competition for government contracts is becoming more cutthroat as federal spending shrinks by billions of dollars, with big companies swooping in on smaller ones and bid protests on the rise.

Routine contracts that in years past would have attracted just a handful of companies have become high-stakes bidding wars. Contractors are forced to make more aggressive offers, with slimmer margins. And industry officials say the gentleman’s agreement that often prevented losing companies from filing bid protests against their rivals has given way to a more desperate mentality.

The number of losing companies’ protests to the Government Accountability Office, which handles the vast majority of bid protests, has increased from 1,352 in 2003 to 2,429 last year. While that is a fraction of the total number of contracts awarded annually — less than 1 percent, by one estimate — the cases often show how tight the market has gotten and the extreme measures companies will take to win.

“Budgets are going down, which means competition for what contracts remain has increased tremendously,” said Jaime Gracia, president of Seville Government Consulting, which helps contractors win bids. Companies “are making strategic decisions about protesting because they have to. A lot of companies can’t afford to lose that contract.”

After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, spending on contracting soared. Fueled by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it peaked in 2008 at about $541 billion, according to the Office of Management and Budget. But as the budget cuts known as sequestration went into effect, the figure dropped to $461 billion last year, and many predict it will continue to fall.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/with-budget-tightening-disputes-over-federal-contracts-increase/2014/04/04/32165290-b5c6-11e3-8020-b2d790b3c9e1_story.html 

Why the government can’t buy more like a business

April 11, 2014 by

Commonly heard issues with federal government contracting (such as, “it takes too long,” “it’s too expensive,” “it’s overly bureaucratic,” or “it’s too burdensome”) often conclude with a determination that the government should adopt commercial acquisition practices.

Government contracting does have considerable regulation associated with it. The government version of “commercial contracting,” found in the Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 12, was an attempt to address this idea and has been somewhat successful. However, additional government-unique requirements have been added over time.

In many cases, a primary hurdle is that a customer can have unique requirements, making that customer the only customer.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.federaltimes.com/article/20140327/BLG06/303270007/Why-government-can-t-buy-more-like-business

Contractor misrepresented VOSB status for $152 million lease

April 9, 2014 by

he VA failed to verify the accuracy of a contractor’s representation that it was a veteran-owned small business, according to a new report issued by the VA’s Office of Inspector General.

According to the VA OIG, the VA failed to verify the claim of Westar Development Company, LLC to be a VOSB–and “[t]he evidence does not support a finding that Westar is or ever has been a Veteran-Owned Small Business.”   The VA’s failure to verify Westar’s VOSB status is just one of many serious flaws identified by the VA OIG in its audit of the award of a major VA lease to Westar.

The VA OIG’s report (which is well worth a read if you have the time) examines the VA’s award of a build-to-suit lease to Westar for the new Butler Health Care Center in Butler, Pennsylvania.  The 20-year lease had a total value of $152.7 million.

Keep reading this article at: http://smallgovcon.com/service-disabled-veteran-owned-small-businesses/contractor-misrepresented-vosb-status-for-152-million-lease-says-va-oig/ 

Controversial IT contractor charged with murder

April 8, 2014 by

Braulio Castillo, the president of IT contractor Strong Castle, was arrested April 1 by Loudon County, Va., authorities and charged with first degree murder in the death of his estranged wife, Michelle.

Castillo gained notoriety as a result of a June 2013 hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that examined the validity of the service-disabled veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB) status enjoyed by the firm he co-owned with his wife.

Castillo’s disability arose from a sports injury incurred at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School. Additionally, Castillo’s firm enjoyed a special status as a HUBZone company under a Small Business Administration program that gives preference to firms located in designated neighborhoods. SBA decertified Strong Castle’s HUBZone status in May 2013, while the Department of Veterans Affairs affirmed Strong Castles SDVOSB status last September.

keep reading this article at: http://fcw.com/articles/2014/04/02/castillo-murder-charges.aspx 

Agencies extended noncompetitive contracts past time limits, GAO says

April 3, 2014 by

Agencies are letting noncompetitive contracts awarded on the basis of “unusual and compelling urgency” run past the one year limit they’re not meant to exceed.

The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) limits the total period of contracts awarded using the urgency exception to one year, unless a determination from the head of the agency is made that exceptional circumstances apply.

Awarding a noncompetitive contract on the basis of urgency is necessary in select circumstances, such as combat operations or preventing unanticipated gaps in program support, says the Government Accountability Offices in a March 26 report,

But those contracts should be limited in duration to minimize the amount of time that the government is exposed to the risks of contracts that are awarded quickly without the benefits of competition, the watchdog says.

Keep reading this article at: http://www.fiercegovernment.com/story/agencies-extended-noncompetitive-contracts-past-time-limits-gao-says/2014-03-27 

 

Maryland man pleads guilty to defrauding SBA and IRS over $52 million in government contracts

April 2, 2014 by

Vernon J. Smith III, age 61, of Edgewater, Maryland, pleaded guilty on Mar. 28, 2014 to conspiring to defraud the U.S. government in connection with schemes to fraudulently seek federal contracts under a Small Business Administration (SBA) program to assist socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses.  Smith also pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service  (IRS).

“Today’s guilty plea sends a strong message to those who lie to obtain preferences for federal contract awards,” said Inspector General Peggy E. Gustafson of the Small Business Administration. “With our interagency partners, SBA OIG will continue to pursue those who defraud the government by lying to gain access to federal set-aside contracts. We would like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office for its leadership and professionalism throughout this investigation.”

“Corruption of the nature uncovered throughout the course of this investigation destroys confidence in the Government’s ability to act as a fair and effective steward of taxpayer dollars. This plea today, demonstrates the commitment of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service and its law enforcement partners to prosecute fraud to the fullest extent of the law,” said Robert E. Craig, Special Agent in Charge, Mid Atlantic Field Office, Defense Criminal Investigative Service.

“Conspiring to defraud the government in a decade long scheme and filing false tax returns is unlawful,” said Thomas J. Kelly, Special Agent in Charge, IRS Criminal Investigation, Washington DC Field Office. “Bringing individuals to justice, such as Vernon Smith, who intentionally engage in this type of activity in order to defraud the IRS, ranks high on the list of IRS- CI’s enforcement priorities.”

“This complicated scheme boils down to lying and cheating to obtain government contracts,” said GSA Inspector General Brian D. Miller. “I appreciate the hard work of our special agents, law enforcement partners, and U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

According to his plea agreement, Vernon Smith was an owner and officer of Capitol Contractors, which provided roofing and construction services, primarily to U.S. government agencies. On March 3, 1993, Capitol Contractors was certified to participate in the SBA’s Section 8(a) program, which provides assistance to socially and economically disadvantaged small businesses. The majority owner of Capitol Contractors was a Native American. A small business can only participate in the Section 8(a) program for nine years before it “graduates” from the program and is no longer eligible to obtain government contracts reserved for Section 8(a) program participants. Shortly before Capitol Contractors graduated from the program in March 2002, the majority owner sold his interest in the company to Vernon Smith, who became the company’s sole owner and managed the day-to-day operations of the company. Vernon Smith did not qualify as a socially and economically disadvantaged individual under the Section 8(a) Program.

In August 1999, Vernon Smith arranged for Anthony Wright, an African-American who was a former roofer and project manager at Capitol Contractors, to form a new company to participate in the Section 8(a) program upon Capitol Contractors’ graduation from the program. On August 11, 1999, Wright incorporated Platinum One Contracting in Maryland. Wright was the president and 60% owner, and Smith’s son was vice president and owned the remaining 40% of the corporation. In reality, Vernon Smith exercised complete and undisclosed control over Platinum’s operations, including the day-to-day management and long term decision making for the company.

Vernon Smith admits that from August 1999 to June 2013, he conspired to defraud the SBA in several ways. For example, Smith directed Wright to submit an application to the SBA for certification in the Section 8(a) program which did not reveal that Vernon Smith:

  • exercised control over the company,
  • had previously supervised Wright,
  • owned more than 10% of Capitol Contractors, and
  • was related to an owner of Platinum.

From May 2004 through April 2010, Vernon Smith also caused Platinum to submit annual updates to the SBA 8(a) program that contained false information, including that the company was controlled by a socially and economically disadvantaged individual, and that no non-disadvantaged member of Platinum’s management received compensation that exceeded that received by Wright. In fact, Vernon Smith controlled the company and Platinum’s payments to Vernon Smith and other corporate officers far exceeded payments received by Wright for 2004 through 2009.  Based on the fraudulent application and annual updates, Platinum One received more than $52 million in contracts from the federal government under the 8(a) program, to which it was not entitled. The total loss to the government resulting from Vernon Smith’s illegal conduct, regarding the illicit profit he received by defrauding the SBA, and depriving a legitimate 8(a) contractor of such profit, is $6,194,828.
In addition, Vernon Smith and a co-conspirator transferred millions of dollars from Platinum to bank accounts in their own names, to Capitol Contractors, to casinos on their own behalf; and to pay for personal expenses charged to Platinum One’s credit cards. These expenses included: extensive dental work, veterinary visits for pets, lavish vacations, and limousine transportation to casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, among others.

Vernon Smith admits that he signed false corporate and personal tax returns for 2005 and 2006. Smith knew that the cost of goods sold and payments to contractors reported on the corporate returns were false because almost all of that money was paid to, and for the benefit of, Smith at casinos. He also knew that the income reported on his personal income taxes omitted hundreds of thousands of dollars that Capitol Contractors had paid to, and for his benefit. As a result, Smith owed additional personal income tax to the IRS totaling $264,105, and Capitol Contractors owed an additional $574,911 to the IRS for tax years 2005 and 2006. The total tax loss resulting from the conspiracy to defraud the IRS is $839,016.

Vernon Smith faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy. U.S. District Judge Paul W. Grimm has scheduled his sentencing for July 2, 2014, at 9:30 a.m.

Anthony Wright, age 42, of Bowie, Maryland, pleaded guilty on June 18, 2013, to his role in the scheme and is scheduled to be sentenced on June 23, 2014.

Source: http://www.justice.gov/usao/md/news/2014/EdgewaterMarylandManPleadsGuiltyToDefraudingSBADisadvantagedSmallBusinessProgramAndIRS.html 

House committee rips SBA for unauthorized pilot programs, contracting woes

April 1, 2014 by

Members of the House Small Business Committee on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of several revisions to the Small Business Administration’s new budget proposal, with several lawmakers criticizing the agency for committing too much money to new, unproven programs and too little to fulfilling its underlying responsibilities to small employers.

“By necessity, budgets require hard choices,” Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said during a brief markup of the budget on Tuesday. “To the extent that the SBA… budget request makes hard choices, they ultimately make them in the wrong place.”

Democrats and Republicans on the panel agreed on revisions that would trim $50 million from the agency’s $710 million budget proposal that was published earlier this month as part of the president’s broader spending blueprint. The committee’s recommendations now move to the House Budget Committee for review.

SBA officials maintain that the proposal would ensure that employers have the resources they need to start and grow their businesses, and it would give the department the resources it needs to expand important exporting, capital access and other educational programs. On the agency’s blog earlier this month, Marianne Markowitz, the agency’s acting administrator, said the plan “builds on SBA’s proven track record of assisting America’s small businesses.”

Keep reading this article at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/on-small-business/house-committee-rips-sba-for-unauthorized-pilot-programs-contracting-woes/2014/03/26/15f84f80-b433-11e3-b899-20667de76985_story.html 

Federal contractors’ hiring goal for veterans took effect March 24

March 31, 2014 by

Effective March 24, 2014, contractors required by the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) to develop a written affirmative action program (AAP) must also establish a hiring benchmark for protected veterans each year or adopt the national benchmark provided by the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).  Federal contractors use the VEVRAA Benchmark Database when establishing a hiring benchmark for protected veterans as required by 41 CFR 60-300.45.

Contractors must compare the percentage of employees who are protected veterans in each of their establishments to the hiring benchmark set for that establishment.  Contractors should use the result of this comparison when assessing the effectiveness of their veteran outreach and recruitment efforts.

This VEVRAA Benchmark Database provides additional information regarding the establishment of hiring benchmarks and easy access to the national and State data that may be needed to establish these benchmarks.

OFCCP has now posted the Benchmark Database required by the new regulations implementing the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA).   The database includes the annual national percentage of veterans in the civilian labor force for contractors that choose to use this number as their benchmark. It also includes data on the percentage of veterans in the labor force in each State and the number of veterans who participate in each State’s employment service, for use by those contractors choosing to develop an individualized benchmark.

To help contractors use this database, OFCCP provides detailed user instructions and examples illustrating how a contractor could use the database to set an individualized VEVRAA benchmark.

You can access the VEVRAA Benchmark Database through OFCCP’s Web site at http://www.dol-esa.gov/errd/VEVRAA.jsp.