ManTech gains rare NRO ‘non-conflict status’

The agency program seeks to ensure the integrity of the contracting acquisition process

ManTech International Corp. recently became one of only a handful of government contractors to receive certification from the National Reconnaissance Office as a “non-conflicted” services provider, according to a company announcement.

The agency program negotiates Organizational Conflict of Interest (OCI) agreements with government contractors to ensure the integrity of their acquisition process, ManTech said.

An NRO spokeswoman told Washington Technology that a check of agency files showed that in addition to ManTech, Computer Sciences Corp. subsidiary Welkin Associates Ltd., a Chantilly, Va., provider of management tools to the intelligence community, and Elantech Inc., a Greenbelt, Md., government contractor, also have received OCI certification from the agency.

The NRO program is designed to avoid conflicts that can occur when the contractor, or a parent and an affiliate, holds contracts for support services and for development on the same acquisition program, the company said.

OCI programs are consistent with recent protest decisions by the Government Accountability Office, indicating that conflicts cannot be mitigated with a firewall between affiliated companies and that avoidance is the preferred approach, the ManTech statement added.

The GAO website said the agency has identified specific contractor activities that may result in “an impermissible impaired objectivity” or organizational conflict of interest. According to GAO, impaired objectivity can exist when a firm’s work under one government contract requires the firm to develop policies and regulations that may affect products manufactured by that firm or its competitors.

OCIs also can occur when government contractors attempt to acquire or divest corporate assets, GAO said.

As a result, government contractors must be aware of the OCI rules applicable to contract awards when deciding which opportunities to pursue, when drafting OCI Mitigation and Avoidance Plans, and when deciding whether to protest an award made to another contractor, the government watchdog agency said.

The NRO program reflects the objectives of the Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009, which President Barak Obama signed into law last year.

“NRO has established a particularly stringent set of rules around conflicts of interest, some of which we have suggested are actually overly restrictive,” Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council and a Washington Technology columnist, wrote in an email response seeking comment on the NRO program.

“We believe conflicts of interest often can be (and are) effectively mitigated and have submitted comments to that effect to both Congress and the administration. NRO largely assumes one cannot mitigate the ‘bias’ which we think is unnecessarily stringent and restrictive,” he said.

“Nonetheless, that debate aside, because NRO has probably the most stringent rules, the non-conflicted determination is probably helpful to companies where there might otherwise be questions raised,” Soloway added.

He said other agencies could take similar action and he cited the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget as developing policy on the issue. “But it would be more appropriate to have a consistent, governmentwide policy and practice,” Soloway said.

“Rather than having each agency set its own rules, consistency would make much more sense for the government and industry alike,” he added. “It’s sometimes a complicated issue, but has also at times been overly simplified.”

About the Author

David Hubler is the former print managing editor for GCN and senior editor for Washington Technology. He is freelance writer living in Annandale, Va.

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