When contract talks get heated, who's in charge?


Time and time again, big contractors went over the heads of General Service Administration contracting officers who were trying to negotiate good prices for the government.

But when it came time to choose, GSA supervisors sided with the contractors.

That’s the conclusion of recent GSA Office of Inspector report that raises troubling questions about the enormous pressure contracting officers can come under from contractors with close ties to managers and even members of Congress.

While GSA says it’s got new management and won’t tolerate such interference nowadays, the bigger questions are whether this sort of thing happens elsewhere, not just in GSA but in other agencies? Do lawmakers get involved? And when negotiations get heated, are contracting officers fully in charge or do contractors have outsized influence?

If there’s more to this story, let me know at jmcelhatton@federaltimes.com or (703) 750-8659.


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  1. From my observations as a DoD employee, I’d say there’s really nobody in charge–that is: There’s no single “belly button”. Instead, there’s a hodgepodge of different bureaucracies, kingdoms and fiefdoms scattered throughout the contracting organization, the program management organization (further broken down into logistics, engineering, etc), legal organization (JAG office) and the end user (ultimate customer for whom the product or service is procured). Each of these little kingdoms has their own little Napoleon who thinks he/she’s in charge, but in reality, nobody really is. Contract laws are subject to debate and interpretation at every turn in every organization. Contract sepcifications are generally vague, often times untestable or unverifiable and again, ambiguous to the point of having several credible but differing interpretations.

    Determining best value is usually nothing more than a window-dressing exercise that invariably decays into selecting the lowest bidder despite history being rife with examples proving that the cheapest is not necessarily the least expensive or the best value.

    In a government such as ours, such inefiiciency should be looked upon with scorn and disdain, since, after all, this directly affects the taxpayer–adversely at that.
    We need to improve–seriously. We need to cut red tape, dupliciate rules, regulations and reduce layers of upper and middle management. We owe this to the taxpayer.

  2. Silly Question on

    Of course this stuff goes on in other agencies. The only difference in the degree of interference depends on what the government is actually buying and the amount of money involved.

    Just take a look at the BID protests from the GAO website, and the decisions from the Civilian Board of Contract Appeals Website, and I think you will see we need to streamline the rules and get rid of some of the excessive layers of middle and upper management.

    If that doesn’t get you going try doing a search of the Treasury Dept’s Judgment fund website to see how may tens of millions of dollars have been paid out because of problems with government contracts and other issues as well.

  3. Are You Kidding Me? on

    Does this go on elsewhere? Are you kidding me? The government agency/organization requests goods or services. The contracting office process the request, advertise for said goods or services, then recommends to government agency who to select, then awards a contract to contracting agency. Sounds simple right? Not so….says one Government Representative…..when the Contacting Agency is influenced by Vendors to the extent they would rather protect the rights of contractors and vendors….rather than the Government it is hired to represent….things get rather complicated and downright legally questionable. In fact Congress and the Tax-Payer really do not know how difficult it is to be a Government Employee and an Honest Broker when Contracting Officers and Contract Vendors are engaged in inappropriate agreements. To top it off….the last two big brass Civilians who retired here went directly to work for the Contract Vendor…..and current Leadership expects to do the same…..therefore…..they will not be Honest Brokers for the Government either……It’s tough at the bottom trying to do the right things for your tax dollars……yet we earn too much and must be furloughed because one agency failed to curb spending…….oh and while we are furloughed….the Contract Vendors will be at work all day long….sucking up three times the amount of money! Things that make you say……are you kidding me?

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