Welcome to Government Inc.

Dear Reader,

In launching this new relationship with you, Government Inc. would like to acknowledge that federal contracting may seem about as enticing as a plate of raw broccoli or a rush-hour trip around the Beltway.

Bear with us.

In time, we believe you will come to understand how amazing, strange and even infuriating it can be to watch how your tax dollars are spent. It probably won't come as a surprise that the government is spending more than ever before.

Consider a few statistics:

$412 billion, the total reported amount of federal procurement in 2006. That's more than twice the reported spending in 2000.

$145 billion, the total spending last year without full and open competition.

$31.5 billion, the 2006 revenue of Lockheed Martin, the government's No. 1 number one federal contractor. It's worth noting that the figure is more than 40 countries' gross domestic product.

There are people who contend that federal procurement is out of control. They point to examples of fraud, waste, and failed systems, to an overworked and understaffed contracting workforce that can't keep up. They argue that government is becoming overly dependent on contractors.

Others favor the continued expansions of "reforms" that have loosened the procurement process in recent years. They want government to operate more like a business, with flexible "partnerships" between agencies and contractors. These advocates say that speed and convenience should trump time-consuming procedures like competition.

Government Inc. will attempt to shine the bright light of reporting on the good, the bad and the sometimes very unsettling. Please let us know what you think.

All ideas, tips and especially documents are welcome. Send to confidentialinfo@washpost.com. All correspondence will be confidential. If possible, please include contact information.

By washingtonpost.com Editors |  July 9, 2007; 4:42 PM ET
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Comments

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We love raw broccoli!

Follow the money - that is the best advice.

Who is making campaign contributions? And to whom? Vs. who is getting the contracts... and from whom?

What large firms get the contracts vs which small firms that could provide the services but don't get the contracts?

Any other questions really bring up the rear in these matters.

One "reargaurd" question re: The FBI's mess... We recall that they threw in the towell on a billion dollars worth of software and systems? Since servers and desktop work stations are procured based upon the SOFTWARE they will run how is it they crow today that the monewy wasn't wasted because they have new servers?

New servers configured to run software that was abandoned? So what exactly are they going to use those "configuration obsolete" servers for now and what was that about well spent investment?

A call to IBM would have had the thing in the bag in a year's time. Instead they made up one from scratch...that failed. Government should NOT be in the business of writing or commissioning software. Just buy it off of the shelf, so to speak.

(no, for those uninformed in government and talk radio not all servers run all software. And business software is based upon the tasks individual workers need to do to complete their roles. It is highly likely those servers are configured in such a way that it is impossible to use them for another software package without adjusting their original configuration. The configuration meant to run the abandoned software, that is.)

Posted by: JBE | July 10, 2007 1:58 PM

While some of the contracting issues concern gouging and other illegal activities, there are also mundane problems as well. The two I see in working with the Feds is (a) a severe shortage of contract staff, and (b) a commensurate shrinking Federal work force.

This has led to the use of restricted contract vehicles, such as Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) and Indefinite Quantity Contracts (IQCs). These vehicles are not for work per se but pre-qualify a short-list of firms who then are the only ones who can bid on projects for the life of the vehicle - usually 5 years. Some vehicles have procurement ceilings of hundreds of millions of dollars - which will only go to the handful of firms on that vehicle.

The vehicle allows the Feds to procure services with a very streamlined process - streamlined becaused they lack the staff to do full and open competitions, which are very time consuming. It is that simple. Greed and corruption are not at work here, just a lack of staff.

Procurements are almost always done in full compliance with the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR), but it does restrict competition and can lead to a kind of implicit favoritism - i.e., only "experienced" firms are chosen for the vehicles - experienced because they already work for the agency. Outsiders have little chance of getting on these vehicles. I know because I have been excluded for this reason in some cases and have benefited from being an insider in others. The sword is double-edged.

Anyway, not all that is wrong with the Feds is intentional. It is a bureaucracy afterall.

Posted by: Dee-El | July 10, 2007 2:08 PM

Bravo for starting the Government Inc. feature! Truly, most in our country and many in Washington have only the slightest grasp of the contracting world. Having worked for just a few years with private companies who were government contractors, I saw enough to know that the system is very flawed. Hopefully your articles will catch people's attention and begin to motivate reform.

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2007 2:22 PM

For anyone who thinks government contracting wastes millions of dollars, there is a shortage of godd, qualified contract specialist, so why don't some of you apply for these positions?

Posted by: Anonymous | July 10, 2007 2:31 PM

A shortage of good qualified specialists. This is not true. They're are many good honest contractors but once your in it is impossible to be considered. I worked for DOD. Contractors hire many foreign workers who spend most of their time watching 3 working elevators out of 8. Ask them when all elevators wiIl be operational, they say "I watching". If computer is down they are outstanding at putting you on a never ending to do list. Two days after 9/11 two cleaning contractors were celebrating high fiving.

Posted by: vicki48 | July 10, 2007 3:17 PM

Thanks so much for providing this service to "we the people." I look forward to learning more from Government Inc.

Posted by: CThomas807 | July 10, 2007 4:02 PM

vicke48, your post is a little confusing, but that's ok. We use performance-based contracting which applies a performance measure to the deliverables. If the contractor does not meet the performance standard, the deliverable is not acceptable. If all 8 elevators are not working, the performance measure was not met and the contractor is not paid for all eight performing elevators. They are only paid for three. By the way, we include a provision in the solicitation (clause in the contract) that states all employees and subcontractors of the contractor must be U.S. citizens, naturalized, or possess work visas. Hopefully, your agency has a foreign affairs division for legal counsel that can help you with this.

Posted by: contracting know it all | July 10, 2007 7:37 PM

Dee-El, indeed, there are qualification standards that are blatantly written to cater to an incumbent and that is legally wrong. You have every right to question, or protest if you must, restrictive qualification statements. At our agency, we have annoyed many of our COTRs by telling them that their minimum qualification standards are too restrictive. I have even seen minimum qualifications that stated the key personnel must have 13 years of experience in the field of **. I called the COTR and asked him which one of his employees just retired and wants to come back on a contract. I heard nothing but silence for the next several seconds.

Posted by: contracting know it all | July 10, 2007 7:46 PM

Suggest you guys read the following article (with a link provided):

GUARDING THE GOVERNMENT'S COFFERS: THE NEED FOR COMPETITION REQUIREMENTS TO SAFEGUARD FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PROCUREMENT, Lani A. Perlman, 75 Fordham Law Review 3817, 2007.

From the author's introduction

This Note examines the results of DHS's exemption from competitive contracting requirements and argues that open competition, as enshrined in the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA),19 is the best means to safeguard government procurement from waste, fraud, and abuse. Part I of this Note describes the history of competitive contracting requirements in federal government procurement. While there is universal agreement that government procurement must be timely, cost-effective, and fair, there is a deep divide over the best means to reach those end goals.
Part II of this Note examines the conflict between the rule-based competition requirements embodied in CICA and the discretionary decision-making scheme implemented by the Reinventing Government reform movement. This Part also examines the effort to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, as a case study in the dangers of noncompetitive contracting.
Finally, Part III of this Note proposes that the best means to ensure the fundamental goals of timeliness, cost-effectiveness, and fairness is a return to statutory competition requirements, with only specific and limited exemptions for national security.

On our site at :
http://www.pubKLaw.com/papers.html

Posted by: Int Party | July 11, 2007 7:00 AM

Suggest you guys read the following article (with a link provided):

GUARDING THE GOVERNMENT'S COFFERS: THE NEED FOR COMPETITION REQUIREMENTS TO SAFEGUARD FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PROCUREMENT, Lani A. Perlman, 75 Fordham Law Review 3817, 2007.

From the author's introduction

This Note examines the results of DHS's exemption from competitive contracting requirements and argues that open competition, as enshrined in the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA),19 is the best means to safeguard government procurement from waste, fraud, and abuse. Part I of this Note describes the history of competitive contracting requirements in federal government procurement. While there is universal agreement that government procurement must be timely, cost-effective, and fair, there is a deep divide over the best means to reach those end goals.
Part II of this Note examines the conflict between the rule-based competition requirements embodied in CICA and the discretionary decision-making scheme implemented by the Reinventing Government reform movement. This Part also examines the effort to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, as a case study in the dangers of noncompetitive contracting.
Finally, Part III of this Note proposes that the best means to ensure the fundamental goals of timeliness, cost-effectiveness, and fairness is a return to statutory competition requirements, with only specific and limited exemptions for national security.

On our site at :
http://www.pubKLaw.com/papers.html

Posted by: Int Party | July 11, 2007 7:00 AM

This is certainly something worth covering, but do I detect a bit of anti-contracting bias even in this early post?

In my own experience in government work, it was often the contractors who worked the hardest and produced the most, whereas the GS employees had little fear of discipline (let alone being fired) and were somewhat lazy.

Posted by: William | July 11, 2007 12:39 PM

As a procurement analyst from the left coast, I love to read Govt. Inc.! Although I work at the state level, we engage in GSA / CMAS contracts daily. They certainly don't provide a competative, level playing field for vendor participation. I try to avoid them as often as I can. Keep up the good work.

Posted by: Sacramento | July 11, 2007 12:51 PM

It does seem rather remarkable that a reporter now has a blog in which he clearly demonstrates his bias and his cynicism. Aren't you supposed to bring complete objectivity to your reporting? Isn't it true that some of your editors won't even vote for fear of compromising their objectivity in any way? And what makes it even worse is that your first entry, in addition to showcasing your clear point of view, was unfortunately also wrong on several basic facts. This is a big issue and one we should talk about. But I am a little surprised you launched this blog with such a one side assault. Doesn't offer much hope for balance here...or...in your reporting?

Posted by: a concerned ex fed | July 11, 2007 8:53 PM

It does seem rather remarkable that a reporter now has a blog in which he clearly demonstrates his bias and his cynicism. Aren't you supposed to bring complete objectivity to your reporting? Isn't it true that some of your editors won't even vote for fear of compromising their objectivity in any way? And what makes it even worse is that your first entry, in addition to showcasing your clear point of view, was unfortunately also wrong on several basic facts. This is a big issue and one we should talk about. But I am a little surprised you launched this blog with such a one side assault. Doesn't offer much hope for balance here...or...in your reporting?

Posted by: a concerned ex fed | July 11, 2007 8:53 PM

It does seem rather remarkable that a reporter now has a blog in which he clearly demonstrates his bias and his cynicism. Aren't you supposed to bring complete objectivity to your reporting? Isn't it true that some of your editors won't even vote for fear of compromising their objectivity in any way? And what makes it even worse is that your first entry, in addition to showcasing your clear point of view, was unfortunately also wrong on several basic facts. This is a big issue and one we should talk about. But I am a little surprised you launched this blog with such a one side assault. Doesn't offer much hope for balance here...or...in your reporting?

Posted by: a concerned ex fed | July 11, 2007 8:53 PM

One sided-assault? Hey, this is an issue rich with topics to vie for attention. Not only contractor ripoffs or incompetence, but impossible directions, political/career interface, supposed task and budget to accomplish it, and more. I hear all those subjects in the posts above, and look forward to seeing how it goes.

Posted by: Been in & out (or upside-down) | August 8, 2007 2:56 PM

One sided-assault? Seems like a candidate-rich environment to me.

Contractor ripoffs or incompetence, bring it on! But ditto for those in government and law who provide the direction and interface, too. Accountability is good all the time, right? And follow-the-money usually works, so where and how contracting fits into policy and budget is a no-brainer. Of course who's getting what and what they're doing with it - plus the successes and failures, and how those are defined.

But how about impossible directions or unrealizable goals? Failure of achievable goals? Tensions between stated needs, competing priorities, and the budget to accomplish it? The political/career interface, the present mix of skills vs. what is needed? The real costs of doing it right, and where money could be saved? Do we, the people, get our money's worth? More, sometimes? What's the right blend of ambition, determination, and realism? Arguments about what's realistic can be worth it for the resulting surprises, in all directions.

Some very worthwhile discussions can take place within this broad topic. Since I hear most of that, or the potential for it in the posts so far, I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes.

Posted by: Been In & Out | August 8, 2007 4:57 PM

so can I remove the 2:56 post, now that I learned how to do it (the 4:57 post).

thanks!

Posted by: Been In & Out | August 8, 2007 5:23 PM

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