Inside the Reporter's Notebook: Some question who's in charge at GSA with six feds on admin leave

Tuesday - 6/11/2013, 3:50pm EDT

"Inside the Reporter's Notebook," is a bi-weekly 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

The General Services Administration's Inspector General's report on improper management intervention during negotiations with three major federal supply-schedule contractors is causing a huge uproar across the federal community. But not because of what the IG report found. Rather because of the real and potential after-effects of the report's findings.

First, industry sources say once again, GSA is looking for scapegoats for the problems outlined in the IG reports to place the blame on, instead of stepping back and understanding the real issues auditors raised. GSA placed one manager on administrative leave in light of the IG's findings.

Sources say it's not one bad actor, but an institutional shortcoming, especially around training of contracting officers.

"This report will have a huge chilling effect on the management of the schedule program," said one industry expert, who requested anonymity because the expert does a lot of business with GSA. "Basically, the IG report assumes contracting officers never make mistakes and questions the role of senior and mid-managers, who by the way, usually are former contracting officers and hold contract warrants."

In the meantime, multiple sources confirmed Warren Blankenship,the division director of the IT Schedule Operations, is the official put on administrative leave because of what the IG found.

Industry sources are shocked that Blankenship is being set up to take the fall for this IG report. The sources say Blankenship has been a stalwart for GSA and one of the most straight-talking managers in the Federal Acquisition Service.

And it's not just Blankenship that GSA management is going after in the wake of what seems like the never-ending continuous investigations by the IG. GSA put five other officials on administrative leave after the IG released two reports May 15 that looked at FAS leadership conferences in Orlando and Atlanta in 2011.

Multiple sources also confirmed Steve Kempf, the acting senior procurement executive, and Amanda Fredriksen, the acting assistant commissioner for the Integrated Award Environment, were among the five who were suspended.

GSA would not confirm or deny the names of the employees put on administrative leave.

This is the second time Kempf has gotten caught up in a conference scandal. Lawmakers pointed fingers at Kempf, among many others, in their outrage over the now-infamous 2010 Western regions conference.

Requests to Blankenship, Kempf and Fredriksen for comment on their situations were not returned.

The suspension of six GSA employees over the last two weeks for past problems sets a precedent that worries many in the community. Let's first take the IG report that says it found management intervened during negotiations with Deloitte, Carahsoft and Oracle to renew their schedule contracts.

The concern is, among people who closely follow GSA and FAS, the signal the IG report is sending to managers. If there is a problem between a vendor and a contracting officer, the IG report basically says to the contracting officer's boss, "don't interfere."

In what other business situation would someone's boss be told not to stay out of an issue directly impacting how the organization meets its mission?

Tom Sharpe, the FAS commissioner, wrote a memo to staff June 5, two days after the report came out, explaining the IG's report and the steps his organization is taking.

"I want to offer my personal support to our contracting officers," Sharpe wrote in the memo obtained by Federal News Radio. "There is a proper management role in supporting the FAS acquisition workforce and in overseeing our procurement process. However, I will not tolerate improper intervention in our procurement process."

Sharpe said he "will issue an Instructional Letter to all FAS employees that will address how contracting staff should document stakeholder (management, professional association, Congressional or other) interest in a particular contract action. As always, staff should refer incoming inquiries from members of Congress to the GSA's Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs (OCIA)."

A GSA spokeswoman said instructional letters are typically issued to give further guidance or information to the workforce.