GSA urged to resume post-award audits of vendors

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) believes that the General Services Administration needs to conduct at least a handful of post-award contract audits every year to make sure the federal government is getting the best possible prices on its contracts.

Coburn, chairman of the House Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security, scolded GSA at a hearing earlier this week on the issue of pre- and post-award audits for not doing more to ensure that government prices are the lowest possible.

"I'm very puzzled why GSA is reluctant to use two of the most powerful tools available to them," the senator said.

David Cooper, director for acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, said that GSA stopped conducting post-award audits after changing its regulations in 1997, justifying the change in part by promising to increase the pace of pre-award audits.

GSA had averaged about 125 audits per year through 1995, Cooper said, saving an average of $83 million annually. But the use of pre-award audits has declined noticeably since 1996.

"As the number [of audits] declined, so did the savings, to only about $18 million a year," he said. GSA appears to be "more focused on getting contracts awarded, not on getting the best prices."

Emily Murphy, chief acquisition officer of GSA, defended the agency's practices. She said the practice of conducting post-award audits is being considered, and her office has significantly increased the number of pre-award audits conducted.

David Safavian, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy in the Office of Management and Budget, asked that Congress consider the entire acquisition environment rather than singling out GSA's lack of post-award audits.

"I can't sit here ? and defend the status quo. We buy more than anyone else in the world and we should be better at it than anybody in the world, and we're not," Safavian said.

But the federal acquisition system "is very delicate ? changes in one area can have unintended consequences in another," Safavian said. "Like it or not, we have different requirements. ? Purchasing has been turned into socioeconomic [policy]."

Patience Wait is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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