Inside the Reporter's Notebook: Reverse auctions for IT; DHS' answers not satisfying; Contractor salary cap proposal returns

Tuesday - 5/28/2013, 5:30am EDT

Jason Miller, executive editor, Federal News Radio

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"Inside the Reporter's Notebook," is a biweekly dispatch of news and information you may have missed or that slipped through the cracks at conferences, hearings and the like.

This is not a column nor commentary — it's news tidbits, strongly sourced buzz and other items of interest that have happened or are happening in the federal IT and acquisition communities.

As always, I encourage you to submit ideas, suggestions, and, of course, news to me at jpmiller@federalnewsradio.com.



The General Services Administration is preparing the next phase of strategic sourcing. It plans on launching reverse auctions for commodity IT purchases on July 1.

A presentation by GSA's Teresa Carrington, the director of the National IT Commodity Program (NITCP), which was obtained by Federal News Radio, explains that the program would come under eBuy. GSA would run the auctions using simple comparisons and rankings showing the lowest bid and other factors.

The presentation explains the goal of the reverse auction program is to make the buying of non-complex commodities and simple IT services more efficient and effective, drive down the total costs of acquisitions, streamline procurement time and increase savings.

GSA awarded 43 companies a spot on the NITCP blanket purchase agreement, which has a $32 million ceiling, in December 2012.

At the time of the award, GSA officials claimed the program was not part of the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI). But if GSA implements reverse auctions using the NITCP program, as well as the IT schedules and other FSSI BPAs, then the initial fears of reducing the number of vendors competing for a chunk of the$1.7 billion a year in IT spending that goes on at GSA will come to fruition.

The presentation said seven agencies already have expressed interest in the reverse auctions capability, including the departments of Health and Human Services, Treasury, Transportation and Homeland Security.

While GSA hasn't officially announced its plans, reverse auctions have a mixed history in government.

The Veterans Affairs Department briefly stopped using them in March 2012 after concerns about oversight of the process. It lifted the moratorium the following month after narrowing the scope of what agency staff could use reverse auctions for and making changes to ensure that a more robust oversight existed within the agency.

The IBM Center for the Business of Government published a report in 2011 highlighting agency success stories and potential savings of $8.9 billion across the government.

The question is whether reverse auctions are an opportunity or a sign of things to come in more "commodity" areas where competition will be restricted among fewer companies?


The mystery about what happened to former Homeland Security Department chief information officer Richard Spires took another turn late last week.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee, was less than pleased with the agency's late-response to his letter from April 19 asking why Spires was on leave and about the background of acting CIO Margie Graves.

DHS' response letter from Nelson Peacock, the assistant secretary for legislative affairs, shined little light on why Spires took leave and eventually resigned.

Peacock wrote, "Although personnel and privacy rules prohibit me from discussing why Mr. Spires elected to take leave and resign, I can confirm it was not related in any way to the testimony he delivered on Feb. 27 or the testimony he was scheduled to deliver on March 19. In fact, Mr. Spires subsequently met with the subcommittee chair to discuss topics related to that hearing. Contrary to media reports, Mr. Spires was not placed in an administrative leave status surrounding any disagreement concerning his authority as DHS CIO."

Several industry sources, who have met with or talked to Spires in the last few weeks, say he's keeping a low profile on purpose and is exploring options in the private sector.

But as to why he took leave and eventually resigned, the mystery remains.

And with the lack of answers from DHS, Thompson wrote to Secretary Janet Napolitano May 22 re- requesting more information on Spires and Graves, including a copy of Spires' resignation letter.

"This one-page letter did not answer any of the specific questions regarding Ms. Graves' background," Thompson wrote. "Instead, the information provided in response to detailed and specific questions from a Congressional committee conducting oversight was a vague biographical sketch akin to those readily available on the department's website. Through staff, I requested that the department reconsider its vague response and draft a letter that answered questions about an employee's qualifications to assume a leadership role that is responsible for assuring the effective and efficient expenditure of approximately $6 billion in IT investments. To date, without any explanation or justification, the department has indicated that it will not provide the detailed answers I seek."

Thompson wants answers by May 28 about why Spires was on leave, who played a role in the decision and other details about Graves' background.


The 2013 Management of Change conference that wrapped up Tuesday in Cambridge, Md., suffered a bit of the sequestration curse with fewer than 100 federal employees attending out of the 478 total participants.

Still, some interesting tidbits came out of the conversations and panels that focused on innovation, shared services and mission delivery.

Probably the most interesting news came from the General Services Administration's Mark Day about the cloud broker strategy.

Day, GSA's director of the Office of Strategic Programs in the Federal Acquisition Service's Office of Integrated Technology Services, said after reviewing responses from the July 2012 request for information the plan is to pilot the cloud broker concept with two agencies.

Day said DHS has agreed to take part in one of the tests, and another agency is close to agreeing. He wouldn't name the other agency until the final memorandum of understanding was in place.

"A lot of people are getting nervous that GSA is giving up the contracting role in the cloud broker model," Day said. "But there are a number of other roles for a broker to play, including the integration role. If an agency ends up with 10 different cloud providers, how do you get single sign on or a service level agreement monitoring across all 10 providers? We will look at the areas that are appropriate and see what the cost is to make the pieces fit together."

Day said the pilots will take place this summer.

Second item from Day: Is it too early to talk about an Alliant recompete?

He said GSA is already starting to head down the path even though the contract with a $50 billion ceiling doesn't expire until 2019.

Day said GSA noticed that when agencies moved from Millennia to Alliant, a huge drop off in usage occured over the final two or three years of the Millennia.

"We want to give agencies more of a runway to keep using the current Alliant contract as the follow-on is put in place," he said. "We want the new contract in place before the old one expires."

Third tidbit: The Commerce Department is in the early stages of implementing a new acquisition framework.

Barry Berkowitz, Commerce's senior procurement executive and director of acquisition management, said the process helps to ensure the requirements are correct, the department identifies resources — both money and people — early on, and all the stakeholders from acquisition to legal to technology are on board at the start of the program.

He said Commerce just completed the first milestone review of a major project for one of the National Institute of Standards and Technology's research labs.

"It's been a two-year process of building this process and capability across the department," Berkowitz said. "Everything we've tried to do in this…was not to add another layer of oversight or meetings that program managers and program folks have to go through. We tried to coordinate so we only had to do things once."

He said it's too early to say what the results are, but he has high hopes for the framework.

"One of the things we are still working on is this framework is not set in concrete," Berkowitz said. "As a matter of fact, one of the basic premises was that we would build this framework and set it in firm clay so it could still be remolded as life continues."


This just in: My intrepid colleague Jared Serbu did a little digging into the fiscal 2014 Defense Authorization bill currently under debate in Congress, and found a provision that would limit the cap contractors can be reimbursed for to $400,000 — the same as the president's salary.

The funny thing about the provision is who put it in the DoD bill.

When you look at the metadata of the document, it turns out Mathew Blum, the associate administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy authored the provision.

This explains why Frank Kendall, the DoD undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, wasn't familiar with it at a recent presentation on the Better Buying Power initiative.

"In general we have a free market and a competitive market that supports us, and industry needs to compete for talent in that market. They need engineering talent, management talent, etc., and they have to go out and compete with the commercial world. If we will have high quality of people in the defense industry, they need to be competitive," Kendall said Thursday at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "I'm going to have to take a look at that and see where we are. Maybe it's a result of an attempt to compromise with a more stringent restriction that Congress was going to put on that I was aware and was at least discussed in Congress."

Lawmakers declined last session to lower the reimbursement cap from $763,000 annually. The Senate passed a provision to lower the rate to $230,700, but the House-version of the Defense Authorization bill didn't include the cap and neither did the final law.

The Obama administration proposed to lower the cap to $200,000 in January 2012.


Out&About: AFCEA's Northern Virginia chapter is hosting the 12th annual Navy IT day on Wednesday in Vienna, Va., featuring Terry Halvorsen,Department of the Navy CIO; Rear Adm. Peg Klein, chief of staff for the U.S. Cyber Command; and Marines CIO Brig. Gen. Kevin Nally, among many others. ACT-IAC also on Wednesday is holding a Mythbusters forum in Washington with OFPP deputy administrator Lesley Field, Jose Arrieta, the DHS procurement ombudsman and others. Thursday brings the Federal Cloud Computing Summit in Washington where sessions focus on completed cloud projects, cloud brokering and FedRAMP. Speakers include Interior Department CIO Bernie Mazer, Health and Human Services CIO Frank Baitman and DoD's Joint Authorization Board representativeKevin Dulany.

RELATED STORIES:

May 13: Inside the Reporter's Notebook: The CIO shuffle continues; the last E-gov benefits report?

April 29: Inside the Reporter's Notebook: Communication breakdown over FITARA? Lawmaker wants answers from DHS

April 12: Inside the Reporter's Notebook: A deeper dive into the 2014 budget