Online Extra: Funding threat prompts RFI for jobs portal
- By Jason Miller
- Apr 16, 2004
Money speaks louder than words.
After the Office of Personnel Management repeatedly ignored recommendations by the General Accounting Office to recompete the Recruitment One-Stop contract, the agency reconsidered when a key lawmaker warned that the e-government project could lose funding, two industry sources said.
Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, issued the warning, the sources said.
Davis has been pressuring OPM officials to recompete the contract since GAO last year found the agency did not conduct a fair procurement.
Faced with the possibility of losing money, OPM, which manages the project, late last month released a request for information, signaling that it might hold a new competition. The RFI asks vendors for ways to improve the federal jobs portal.
GAO officials twice last year said OPM didn't conduct a fair procurement for the revamping of the USAjobs.com Web site when it awarded the contract to Monster Government Solutions, a unit of Monster Worldwide Inc. of New York, which operates the popular Monster.com employment Web site.
First, GAO examiners upheld the bid protest of Symplicity Corp. of Arlington, Va. Then they denied the agency's appeal.
OPM officials ignored the audit agency's findings and continued working with Monster, spending more than $9 million to overhaul USAjobs and add features.
The contract, which was for one year with four-year and five-year options, could be worth as much as $62 million if all options are extended to Monster.
In several meetings among Davis, committee staff members and OPM officials, including OPM Director Kay Coles James, Davis urged OPM to move forward with a new contract, said David Marin, committee spokesman. However, Marin would not confirm whether Davis threatened the project's funding.
"Chairman Davis remains convinced that OPM ignored the GAO protest, and he thinks that was inappropriate," Marin said. "Our position is very clear to OPM."
Marin said the committee hopes the RFI is the first step toward a formal contract recompetition, which he said is the only way for the flawed award to be remedied.
A Symplicity spokesman said the company is looking forward to a formal recompete.
OPM General Counsel Mark Robbins would not confirm or deny that a threat to withhold funding had been made, and referred all questions to Davis.
Industry sources said Davis' growing frustration over OPM's reluctance to follow GAO's decision led him to make the warning.
Robbins acknowledged there was concern on the Hill but said that was not the reason OPM released the RFI.
"Director James pledged to the Hill that we would not automatically renew the option, and we would go through the process of finding what technologies are out there," Robbins said. "She thought this would address their concerns. We would have been doing this regardless of what happened last year."
OPM officials told Monster in November 2003 they would not automatically renew the company's option, said Brent Pearson, general manager for Monster Government Solutions. Monster's base contract expired in January, and OPM officials extended it through September.
Pearson said OPM officials told him of their plans to issue an RFI a week before it came out.
"OPM still is getting a lot of heat from the GAO protest, and I guess this is their way of doing their due diligence," Pearson said. "We feel fairly comfortable, because we know we are performing well under the contract."
Responses to the RFI are due April 26. Robbins said OPM will review the responses for about a month. By June 15, OPM will exercise Monster's option or issue a new request for proposals. If the agency releases an RFP, a new contract should be in place by Sept. 30, Robbins said.
"With the state of technology ever changing, we didn't want to get locked into a multiyear situation where we are stuck with a technological dinosaur," Robbins said.
The executive of at least one potential competitor said her firm won't be responding to the RFI. Linda Rix, co-chief executive officer of Avue Technologies Corp., said the RFI doesn't show that OPM is interested in new strategies for USAJobs.com.
"OPM wants to see what kind of functionality they will put into the site and push people to that site," Rix said. "We think OPM should be distributing [job] notices to as many sites as possible instead of drawing people into its site."
The Tacoma, Wash., company's online service gives agencies the option of sending notices of job openings to 1,100 organizations with one click of a mouse, or of distributing the postings to selected organizations.
"We push job postings to as many organizations as possible in order to attract as many high-quality applicants as possible," Rix said.
The RFI's language suggests that OPM has confused an RFP with an RFI, Rix said. The RFI asks for pricing and detailed information about the vendor's solution, two items that are not usually requested at this stage, she said.
"In essence, they're asking contractors to write the statement of work," Rix said.
Robbins said OPM asked for the information because officials want to know as much as possible about potential solutions in a short time frame.
"The purpose is to assess the state of technology as it is out there," he said. "It was not a conscious effort to make the RFI look like a RFP."
Washington Technology Staff Writer Gail Repsher Emery contributed to this story. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jason Miller writes for Government Computer News. He can be reached at email@example.com.