Past Performance Accountability Should Not be Punishment

The Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan met recently to raise concerns that large defense contractors are getting a pass on fraud and poor performance. However, some on the Commission seem to think that solutions should not be bilateral, or even going so far as to seemingly having a “Save me from myself” mentality.

The focus of the testimony was the effectiveness of the government’s current methods for assessing oversight and surveillance of the current $200 billion that has been spent on contracts and grants since 2002 to support military, reconstruction, and other U.S. operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the Commission, the United States has wasted tens of billions of dollars of contract dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but of course the blame game is always the first line of defense for failing to get at the root cause of not only the failures of oversight in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in how the government evaluates performance overall.

Laying the blame squarely on industry, Commissioner Charles Tiefer called five large companies that do business with the Defense, among them KBR, the “Flagrant Five” for continuing to receive work despite claims of fraud, misconduct and poor performance.
.…”I’m beginning to get the picture that bad performance could be good business,” Tiefer said at a commission hearing Monday…
Also joining in on bashing industry was The Project on Government Oversight’s general counsel Scott Amey.

…Companies involved in misconduct are a “necessary evil” required to get work done. “This might be the contracting version of ‘too big to fail,'” he said…
Amey also went on to state that the Air Force issued multiple waivers in order to continue business with firms accused of wrongdoing, in addition to the Interagency Suspension and Debarment Committee not issuing the annual reports required to document federal agencies’ suspension and debarment activities.
These activities bring up an interesting issue about why the government is not doing its job in providing the proper level of oversight, surveillance, and past performance reporting. Lack of time? Not wanting to correct a problem and “slow down” the process? Really?
Most of the testimony focused around the report issued a week before about the vital need for contingency contracting reform, with a particular focus on debarments and suspensions as seemingly a punitive weapon and silver bullet against contractors. Although the report discusses the failures of government, clearly malfeasance also seemed to be the root cause of waste.
.…”For many years the government has abdicated its contracting responsibilities — too often using contractors as the default mechanism, driven by considerations other than whether they provide the best solution, and without consideration for the resources needed to manage them,” the commission concluded. “That is how contractors have come to account for fully half the United States presence in contingency operations.”…
Not all the voices on the panels were one-sided. Dan Gordon, Administrator for the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, discussed in his testimony the facts about debarments and suspension.

…The regular evaluation of contractor performance and the use of those evaluations in decisions for future awards motivate contractors to perform well, and help ensure that we avoid doing repeat business with firms that don’t perform well. Suspending or debarring entities can help to protect taxpayers from the abuse of contractors who have been convicted of fraud or other criminal or civil offenses indicating a lack of business honesty or integrity, or who otherwise behave unethically, or engage in poor performance of government-funded work. The system works, however, only if we are willing and able to suspend or debar entities when we shouldn’t be doing business with them, and if all agencies check to be sure they are not awarding a contract to an entity that has been suspended or debarred…
Past performance data collection is the actual root cause of many of these issues. Past performance completion rates are not only low, but the reports are not being entered into the Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS) database. So accountability needs to be the first step in this reform analysis, by ensuring the information about wrong doing is available to government. However, the understanding of what and how suspensions and debarments are supposed to be used is currently a major issue that seemingly is lost on the Commission.
Among 32 recommendations made in a report released last week, commissioners want agencies to:

• Give a written rationale for not pursuing a proposed suspension or debarment.
• Increase use of suspensions and debarments.
• Revise regulations to lower procedural barriers to contingency suspensions and debarments…
These activities are not supposed to be punitive, but that is exactly what the commission seems to be implying. The report itself lists almost double the number of activities targeted to punishment, vice creating solutions to prevent the fraud, waste, and abuse from happening in the first place.
I am not implying that some companies have not acted in the best interest of the taxpayer. Fraud, waste, and abuse has definitely occurred, and regretfully has been a part of war profiteering that goes back to the founding of the nation. However, advocating the use of debarments and suspensions as a punitive weapon will not solve the problem. I hope the Commission realizes that treating the symptoms and not the disease is simply a recipe for failure, and will be further adding to the waste it has been formed to help prevent.

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