Buy Lines: Get It Right review process needs work now

Stan Soloway

Later this month, the General Services Administration inspector general is expected to release the first of two reviews of the GSA Client Support Centers as required by the 2005 defense authorization bill. They follow the December 2004 report on the centers, done by the GSA IG, on the recommendation of GSA Administrator Stephen Perry.

These reviews are intended to assess the progress each center has made in implementing management controls and processes. The upcoming reports also will include an assessment by the Defense Department IG of the extent to which defense components are complying with rules and procedures for using the centers.

These are important reports and their findings will have a significant effect on the future of the centers and governmentwide acquisition contracts.

For that reason alone, it is essential for the conclusions of the reports to be based on commonly accepted, consistent interpretations of the rules. The process by which the IGs arrive at their conclusions also must be fair and open.

Unfortunately, based on the December 2004 report, there are serious questions as to whether either of those goals is being, or will be, met.

The December report, which covered all of 2003 and a small portion of 2004, showed that some centers were making meaningful progress, while in other cases substantial improvements clearly were still needed.

Considering that the "Get It Right" program, designed to improve management of the Client Support Centers, was not in place for much of the time covered, the conclusions came as no surprise. Moreover, most observers agree that the March 2005 report and, even more significantly, the March 2006 report will be of far greater significance.

However, before those reviews are done and the reports released, the serious questions raised by the December report need to be answered.

For example, although the centers were the focus of the IG review, individual companies also got significant attention in the report. The IG repeatedly cited companies by name and made sweeping assertions as to company behavior, contract scope, pricing and other issues. The IG even recommended that some contracts be terminated.

In some cases, the IG's interpretations of the law or regulations are specious, at best. In other cases, the IG's conclusions and assertions are based on insufficient information and inadequate reviews.

The IG appears to have made little effort to obtain reasonable explanatory information from the companies involved, despite the serious nature and potentially deleterious impacts of the allegations.

Additionally, the IG included in the report information widely considered proprietary in nature, including company labor, overhead and material handling rates.

In simple terms, the process and terms under which the December 2004 report was produced must be substantially improved. If the IG wants to name names, the accused deserve the chance to provide input and correct inaccurate data and flawed findings.

There also is no excuse for publicly releasing proprietary company information. And it is critical that all of the stakeholders agree on the rules and definitions on which the IG's assessments will be based.

Otherwise, the upcoming reports will only perpetuate existing misunderstandings and misperceptions. This will lead to inappropriate, counterproductive remedial actions and irreversible, undeserved harm to individuals, government components and companies.

The IG reviews are important and will play a major role in molding policymaker and customer perceptions of the client support centers. That is why it is so important to get the reviews right. It is not too late --but time is running short.

Stan Soloway is President of the Professional Services Council; his e-mail is soloway@pscouncil.org

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