Contract and grant transparency is 'wave of the future'

Wednesday - 11/16/2011, 10:37am EST

Nancy Gunderson, deputy assistant secretary for grants, acquisition policy and accountability , HHS

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By Michael O'Connell
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

The Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board broke new ground in how to track grant and contract money so the public could see what's going on. Now that work is starting to spread throughout the government.

"With the Affordable Care Act and the Recovery Act, we've become quite busy over the last couple of years," said Nancy Gunderson, deputy assistant secretary for grants, acquisition policy and accountability at Health and Human Services.

She joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris from the 2011 Government Contract Management Conference earlier this week. She explained how the acquisition workforce at HHS is evolving and her plans for applying RAT Board lessons learned.

"We are understaffed in our contracting workforce, and we're trying to recapture what we've lost over the last couple of years and regain our workforce," she said. "But, our workforce is holding strong and we've been able to meet all of those priorities as they occurred."

To find those qualified to meet their needs, HHS agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration, have tried to tap into the local workforce. "Our Centers for Medicare and Medicaid started an intern program last year that's been very successful," she said. "So they've been able to bring in a whole new workforce through that program."

HHS is also actively engaged in implementing the new three-tiered program for contracting officer technical representatives (COTR) and making sure that those designated within the agency to serve in those roles are fully trained and capable of working on the more complex contracts.

"They help with all of the breadth of contract administration that's required to help us oversee contract performance," Gunderson said. "They also become key individuals who help us plan the next procurements, because they've been through what it takes to administer a contract and can help bring that learning forward in our new planning."

According to Gunderson, her agency is well on its way to meeting new contracting requirements, such as using small business contractors as well as veteran-owned and disabled-veteran-owned contractors. "We're getting there," she said. "Our goal for last two years was 19.5 [percent] and, for fiscal year 2011, we've achieved more than our expected goal and we're 22.5 [percent]. We're very pleased with that. We did quite a bit of outreach last year. ... I can't cite the number, but I think it's over 1,000 contracts that we awarded last year to new businesses who had never had a contract with us before."

In addition to its contracting, HHS has always had a strong grants management program. Two years ago, Gunderson's office merged with the Acquisition Management Office, and she estimated that her time now is split 50-50 between grants and acquisitions. Annually, her office makes about $380 billion in discretionary grants, compared to $20 billion in contract spending in a year.

Gunderson said that her offices uses the Recovery Board's Grants.gov website to track grants. She sees this as the "wave of the future" in government transparency, making the information about the awarding of grants available and tracking their performance.

Click here for full coverage of the 2011 Government Contracts Management Conference.