VA needs better oversight of major construction projects, IG tells House panel

November 27, 2013 by

The Veterans Affairs Department used inaccurate milestones for several of its health care center construction projects and hasn’t properly tracked project costs, said Linda Halliday, VA assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations before a Nov. 20 House panel.

“VA needs better oversight, improved capital planning and stricter asset management to gain assurance that it can address construction and lease challenges more effectively,” Halliday said at the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

As of August 2013, only four of seven leases that came under IG review for an Oct. 22 report (.pdf), had been awarded and no HCCs had been built, despite VA’s target completion date of June 2012, Halliday said in prepared testimony.

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Contractors concerned about legislation that would centralize suspension process

November 26, 2013 by

Contractor advocates are concerned that new legislation moving through the House could result in a more rigid suspension and debarment process.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has approved a bill known as the SUSPEND (Stop Unworthy Spending) Act, which proposes a centralized board to manage all agency suspension and debarment issues.

The idea is to create a more consistent system — though some agencies would be able to use waivers to maintain their own suspension and debarment processes.

There were 836 discretionary suspensions and 1,722 discretionary debarments in fiscal 2012, according to data provided by the committee. Both figures represent a decrease from the previous year.

A committee spokesman said in past years some agencies have reported very few suspension or debarment actions — despite significant contract spending.

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DoD finalizes unclassified information protection rule for contractors

November 25, 2013 by

A proposed rule more than two years in the making regarding contractor protections of unclassified defense information and intrusion reporting became final last Monday (Nov. 18, 2014) following publication of a final rule in the Federal Register.

The rule is smaller in scope than the proposed rule the Defense Department put forth in June 2011; it proposed controls for any data tagged with a “for official use only” or similar marker.  The final rule only pertains to “unclassified controlled technical information,” which means technical data or computer software (as defined in the Defense Acquisition Regulation Supplement, section 252.227-7013).

It requires contractors and subcontractors storing or transiting that data to implement 51 security controls from the National Institute of Standards and Technology catalog, Special Publication 800-53 (.pdf), or provide a justification for the use of alternative controls or a case for the control’s inapplicability.

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Little guys complain they’re tossed aside as big contractors absorb cuts

November 22, 2013 by

Computer Frontiers Inc.’s owner thought she’d gotten a break when Stanley Inc. agreed to team up with the small technology company in the U.S. government market.

Instead, Barbara Keating says she feels betrayed. Canada’s CGI Group Inc., after buying Stanley, touted the relationship to win orders in the past three years under a State Department visa-processing contract valued at as much as $2.8 billion. Then it mostly cut the small business out of the deal, sending some work overseas, according to a federal lawsuit.

“We were a big part of winning the contract,” Keating said in a phone interview. “We definitely thought we’d all grow together because of this relationship. But that obviously didn’t happen.”

Large companies are increasingly reducing subcontractors’ roles to help cope with $1.2 trillion in automatic federal spending cuts that began in March, according to attorneys and contracting specialists. Those grievances have reached U.S. officials, who want to know when vendors won’t be working with small businesses that helped them get the work.

“We went to many different parts of the country and met with companies, and in almost every city there was someone that said this was an issue,” said Ken Dodds, director of policy, planning and liaison for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 demanded that the government start requiring contractors that operate under a subcontracting plan to notify agencies when they’re not using small businesses that were part of their bids, Dodds said. A regulation to implement that part of the law hasn’t been approved.

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Bill targets abuse in VA contracting

November 21, 2013 by

Students who become injured while cadets at U.S. service academy prep schools will no longer be able to claim vet status or file for disability compensation with the VA under legislation filed this week by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Rep. Daryl Issa, R-Calif.

The bipartisan bill comes after lawmakers in June took testimony from a Virginia businessman who got a VA disability on the basis of a 1984 football injury at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School; the compensation meant his company would be considered for contract set-asides for businesses owned by disabled vets.

The bill filed this week by Duckworth and Issa, who chairs the committee that grilled business owner Braulio Castillo in June, would no longer grant veteran’s status to men or women whose only connection to the military is attending a service academy high school. The bill would define “veteran” to exclude such individuals and prevent them from exploiting the system to secure contracting preferences.

“The Support Earned Recognition for Veterans (SERV) Act [is] a bipartisan bill to eliminate abuses in the veterans benefit system and ensure that only individuals who have actually served in the military can qualify to receive government contracting preferences and similar benefits,” the two said in a joint statement released Nov. 14.

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Contractor pleads guilty in $11 million SDVOSB fraud case

November 20, 2013 by

The owner of an Albuquerque-area construction company and his son-in-law have pleaded guilty to charges that they defrauded a federal program designed for businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.

Max R. Tafoya, 63, the owner M.R. Tafoya Construction Inc., and Tyler Cole, 41, were charged last year in an indictment alleging that the two men obtained almost $11 million in federal contracts by falsely claiming that Tafoya’s company was qualified to participate in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business Program, according to Acting U.S. Attorney Steven C. Yarbrough.

The guilty pleas were entered under plea agreements that require a 57 month prison sentence for Tafoya and a 37 month prison sentence for Cole. A federal judge will determine whether Tafoya and Cole will be required to pay restitution and fines or forfeit assets derived from their criminal activity.

In his plea agreement, Tafoya admitted that between 2009 and 2010, Tafoya Construction was awarded five contracts valued in total at $10,984,189 that required the company to hold SDVOSB status.

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Contractors preparing for acquisition vehicle worth up to $20 billion

November 19, 2013 by

Contractors are readying for the release of a sprawling new contract program worth up to $20 billion over 10 years to provide government agencies with technology hardware, software and other infrastructure.

The program is the fourth iteration of a contracting vehicle managed by the National Institutes of Health’s Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center, or NITAAC, a body tasked with managing several major procurement programs.

This particular vehicle, known as the Chief Information Officer-Commodities and Solutions, or CIO-CS, program, will be used to buy IT commodities such as personal computers, servers and printers, said Robert Coen, acting program director of NITAAC.

This contracting program is meant to complement the center’s IT services contracting programs, which were awarded last year.

The previous iteration of CIO-CS was awarded in late 2002, and 66 vendors won spots on the program, said Stephen Morris, research analyst at Herndon-based Deltek, which analyzes the government contracting market.

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Construction of VA healthcare centers years overdue

November 18, 2013 by

For several healthcare centers that the Veterans Affairs Department planned  to build in 2012, the department still had yet to award leases — let alone begin  construction — as of August of this year.

In October 2009, Congress passed a law (PL  111-82) that authorized about $150 million for the VA to award seven  healthcare center leases–three in North Carolina, two in California, and one in  Alabama and Pennsylvania. The department preferred leases so that it wouldn’t  have to undertake major construction projects.

VA sent Congress a timeline in 2010, showing its plans to award the leases by  August 2010, finish construction by May 2012 and occupy the buildings a month  later. But a report from the VA office of inspector general says that as of August 2013, only four of the leases had been awarded. One of those, for the Pennsylvania facility, was  later terminated because of problems with the contractor.

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DoD acquisition heroes during Iraq, Afghanistan? Small biz, universities and DARPA

November 15, 2013 by

You didn’t hear much about them during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but DARPA, small businesses, and universities were the people who most impressed retired Gen. Hoss Cartwright when he was vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as he and the services scrambled to find weapons to give American troops a combat edge.

“DARPA was incredible to our ability to gain advantage. Small businesses and universities were hotbeds of innovation for us,”  Cartwright said during a panel at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on lessons learned from the last dozen years of war. He made no mention of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, or BAE Systems — or any of the other large defense companies.

What made them special? “Their willingness to take risks… made a huge difference and saved countless lives on the battlefield,” Cartwright said. And he said that in Afghanistan and (previously) Iraq, “[the] battlefield is not driven by platforms” — tanks, ships, planes — which take so long to design, build, and deploy.

Another avenue of innovation at the Pentagon sprang from the acquisition processes of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), which has the right to just buy things in small quantities if it really needs them.

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VA Awards health IT contract at triple the price of lower bids

November 14, 2013 by

The Veterans Affairs Department awarded ASM Research a $162.5 million contract to improve the user experience for VA’s electronic health record system, a price more than triple two competitive bids, Nextgov has learned. The Sept. 30 contract award is for improvements to the Veterans Health Information Systems and Technology Architecture, known as VistA.

HP Enterprise Services and Triple-I of Overland Park, Kansas, each submitted bids under $50 million on the contract won by ASM, two independent sources told Nextgov. The companies competed for the VistA work through task orders issued under a $12 billion IT umbrella contract known as Transformation Twenty-One Total Technology, or T4. The T4 contract, awarded to 16 companies in June 2011, is an indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract that gives the department considerable flexibility in awarding technology deals.

The VistA enhancement contract calls for a new graphical user interface that will display a wide range of patient information. It also calls for other tasks one source described as so general it would allow the department to use ASM for a wide range of work without further competition.

On Oct. 28, a month after VA awarded the contract to ASM, David Waltman, a senior program officer within the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Information and Analytics who had done preliminary work on that contract, sent an email to colleagues at VA and the Defense Department telling them he would leave government service Nov. 2 to take a job as chief strategy officer for ASM.

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