• Feds Often Don’t Seek Lowest Prices, Watchdog Says

    Federal bureaucrats don’t bother to get more than one bidder on more than half of the contracts they award for supplying many of the government’s daily operational needs, according to the Government Accountability Office.

    Only 40 percent of the contracts that accounted for the $25.7 billion in official purchases on the General Services Administration’s Federal Supply Schedule had three or more bidders. Thirty five percent of the remaining contracts had only one or two bidders and 25 percent were awarded non-competitively.

    The FSS is where government agencies buy everything from notebooks and staplers to furniture, personal computers and management consultants. Prices should be lower, thanks to the high volume of purchases. The contracts are supposed to be awarded competitively under the Federal Acquisition Regulations whenever possible.

    Competitive contracting is the exception, not the rule under FSS, however, according to GAO, which conducted its analysis at the request of Senate Homeland Security and Government Reform Committee Chairman Ron Johnson, R-Wis., ranking minority member, Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware and Sen. Claire McCaskil, D-Mo., the committee’s permanent subcommittee on investigations

    “Agencies are paying insufficient attention to prices when using FSS. Ordering agencies did not consistently seek discounts from schedule prices, even when required by the FAR,” GAO said.

    The congressional watchdog said it found cases “in which officials did not assess prices for certain items, as required, or had insufficient information to assess prices.”

    Some of the officials doing the contracting weren’t even aware of “the requirement to seek discounts and told GAO that the need to assess prices was not emphasized in training and guidance.”

    Costs to taxpayers go up when contracting officials don’t ask for discounts, with a result that “agencies may be missing opportunities for cost savings,” GAO said.

    The GAO report pointed in particular to the Department of Health and Human Services for falling short of requirements that contracts be done competitively whenever possible. Fifty-one percent of HHS contracts had only one or two bidders.

    Homeland Security panel members expressed surprise that the federal government doesn’t appear to be getting savings that should be available as a result of its high volume of purchases.

    “The United States is the largest purchaser in the world and should use its bulk purchasing power to get good deals.  Wisconsinites roll their eyes when problems with government’s financial stewardship continue despite obvious, common sense solutions. If government employees simply treated taxpayer money as if it were their own, we’d save hundreds of millions in contracting costs,” Johnson said.

    “Most Americans know that when buying a car, you should never just accept the sticker price as the final price, and you should always shop around,” said Carper. “The same goes for federal agencies’ purchases of goods and services. Today’s report highlights the need to better train the federal government’s acquisition workforce on how to shop around.

    Go here to read the full GAO report.

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