Time versus Money: Taxpayers Take a Bath Again

A recent disturbing story about facilities management by the General Services Administration (GSA) in Chattanooga is a perfect template for how poor (or little) acquisition planning, combined with inadequate market research, creates an environment where questionable acquisition strategy decisions are created. The result is a typical one, where sole-source contracts are created at prices that almost invariable go in only one direction, and quickly surpass any budgets or estimates.

…Taxpayers will foot a $5.75 million rental bill over the 10-year term. The new offices will cost the federal government $1.35 million more than the U.S. General Services Administration’s initial estimate over the next decade and triple the amount now spent to house federal prosecutors in Chattanooga…
Here we go, time to buckle up:
…But real estate experts question why the government didn’t solicit bids for needed space, which will cost $23,366 per employee for the first five years in the new fifth-floor office at Warehouse Row.
For that much, the U.S. attorney’s office could double its number of attorneys and staff to 56 and pay each new worker $11.23 per hour. For the same amount, the feds could buy a median-priced home for each of its employees within the next seven years…
According to the Department of Justice (DoJ), who was the federal customer that GSA was serving, security and proximity where important factors, combined with accessibility standards.
Translation – Our requirements are so unique that our “market research” shows only one source able to meet these requirements.
…”They would be paying the highest rate in the city,” said David DeVaney, president of NAI Charter Real Estate. “You can find space in Chattanooga all day long at $22 per square foot, for full-service, including a generous build-out.”
The rent is more than double the previous rate in the same building — $14 per square foot — and well above Warehouse Row’s advertised lease rate of $16 per square foot.
By not using competitive bidding, federal officials ignored more than 1 million available square feet of office space downtown…
Sole source justifications are of course a vital tool in any procurement toolbox. However, adequate justification is required to circumvent regulations and guidance for ensuring taxpayers will not take a bath.
Regarding the requirements for justification to lease the space that met all the DoJ requirements, which was the impetus for the lack of competition, not to mention the fuzzy math estimates:
But those justifications weren’t mentioned in the original no-bid request…
So the reasons for the sole-source contract were not explained in the justification? Really?
“With the current lease set to expire and facing the need for additional space, the U.S. attorney’s office in Chattanooga worked in conjunction with GSA to find an office in proximity to the federal courthouse that met all suitability and security requirements in accordance with applicable regulations,” Killian wrote in an email. “GSA conducted a market analysis and determined that the Warehouse Row location was the only location that met all requirements that would serve the office and the community.”
However, neither Killian nor the GSA would say what, exactly, drove the rent to the top of the charts.
Translation: We needed the space and we need it yesterday. We checked the boxes, so let’s move forward.
Competition drive price reductions, and in the case of real estate, allows for the government to aggressively negotiate better prices, as real estate managers need tenants to make money. Unused real estate just sits there unproductive.
According to these real estate experts, presumably aware of the DoJ’s requirements, they all unanimously agreed that this was a bad deal.
Translation – Taxpayers lose again.

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Peter G. Tuttle

I will never forget years ago in an Agency I was working with that a Contracting Officer put into an email that she didn’t have the time to save $1 million for her organization. The particular action was moved to another CO and nothing ever happened to the overworked CO.

I think that I am safe in saying that the vast majority of us are overworked in the contract managment career field. We all also face severe pressures from all quarters to be quicker, less obstructive…in other words just to process transactions and not throw up roadblocks to the achievement of the program or mission or whatever…and heaven forbid to mention the FAR in a sentence. Folks in industry hear this as well!!!

Part of the mission is for contracts professionals to provide business advice to those folks that need to have whatever it is purchased to support their program or mission. Many times they don’t want to hear our advice….too bad. The taxpayer cannot afford any of us to become so overworked, jaded or burned out to care about making the best use of their dollars. Anyway, that’s my thought for Wednesday evening on the way to a meeting on SLAs. Cheers.

Jaime Gracia

I completely empathize with the current state of affairs for 1102s, who are overworked and overwhelmed. Nonetheless, the “I don’t have time” excuse has worn really thin for me.

So let me understand. Procurement officials don’t have time to conduct proper market research, plan for an acquisition, and ensure small businesses are being properly represented in contract actions.

However, there is plenty of time to deal with protests resulting from inadequate debriefs, dozens of modifications to contracts, numerous amendments to RFPs due to poorly written requirements, etc.

Does that make sense?