- The Washington Times
Monday, January 5, 2015

An internal VA study has found that an east coast office that handles about $4 billion in business each year didn’t do enough checks to vet the backgrounds of companies to which it awarded contracts.

The internal study by consultants found that the Department of Veterans Affairs’ “Service Area Office East” failed more than half the time to perform at least one of the required responsibility determination reviews, which include checking lists of banned companies or checking basic corporate facts with Dun and Bradstreet and other databases.

The study, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, found the office would often neglect to fill out required paperwork on why they selected “high risk” contractors and found 94 percent of Federal Supply Schedule contracts had some kind of problem, including lack of proof that contracting officers pushed for government price reductions.

Some contract files didn’t even have signatures.

“Notwithstanding the high dollar value or complexity of the procurement, contracting officers fail to conduct meaningful discussions with offerors and do not adequately record the analysis of cost and technical proposals,” the study by Jefferson Consulting found in its fiscal 2013 review.

The consultants couldn’t even identify any “best practices” at the office, instead outlining a host of concerns, including a lack of oversight of construction contracts by the VA’s Washington, D.C., office.

VA officials agreed with numerous recommendations in the study to strengthen contracting but disagreed with the dismal assessment of how the office manages its acquisition process.

The study is the latest evidence of questionable vetting at the VA.

In one case, the department discounted an inquiry from the FBI about the project manager for a VA medical center. Later, the manager was indicted for embezzlement, which set the project back and ensnared the agency in a lawsuit.

In 2013 a Maryland woman was sentenced to prison for using bogus shell companies to win VA contracts but not delivering the work. A database check might have flagged the contracts.

In the latest scandal, former VA contracting official Iris Cooper left the agency to become Treasury’s senior procurement executive before the VA Inspector General wrapped up an investigation that accused her of steering contracts to a friend’s company.

That company had only been incorporated for weeks before it competed for a VA technology contract. Contracting files later examined by investigators found incorrect information about purported government contract work that the company had performed previously.

The VA, in response to an inquiry from The Times, said they are working on “professional development, training and opportunities” to improve their workforce.

“We will continue to use the mechanisms in place to ensure appropriate checks and balances are in place for oversight of acquisition processes and policies and engage our personnel in professional development opportunities.”

• Jim McElhatton can be reached at jmcelhatton@washingtontimes.com.

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