Is Sun fiasco indicative of bigger acquisition issues?

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and the General Services Administration are sparring again over the Sun Microsystems contracting controversy, a week after the company let its schedules contract expire.

Grassley said he wants to know if the Sun case reflects deeper problems with how the government negotiates and manages contracts, leading to contracts that benefit vendors at the expense of taxpayer dollars.

He said his staff conducted two oversight investigations that "uncovered a disturbing chain of circumstances at GSA."

"I fear the Sun contract fiasco may be only the tip of the iceberg. I hope it is the exception, but many contracting officials suggest otherwise," he said, speaking Wednesday on the Senate floor.

He said he would not make the reports public because of proprietary information.

The senator said that top-level GSA officials interfered in contract negotiations with Sun in 2006. He said they pressured the contracting officer to sign a "potentially bad contract" and removed him from the negotiations when he refused. He said the officer who replaced him awarded the contract under terms he opposed and finally Sun had a lucrative contract.

Grassley said contract officers should fight for the best possible deal for the taxpayers, even if means the loss of a contract that is productive for GSA and the vendor.

"GSA must never forget who the real customer is: the American taxpayers," he said.

But the agency fired back in a statement.

"As GSA has said time and time again over the last year, we believe the Sun contract was a good deal for the taxpayer," an agency spokesperson said. "The Sun Microsystems contract, however, is not the example of contracting irregularities that some may have hoped," the agency stated.

In September, Sun said it would end its GSA multi-award schedule contract Oct. 12. A spokesperson today said in fact it has expired.

Grassley said there was a worse problem. The reports indicate that GSA officials lied about allegations of intimidation by auditors from the office of the GSA inspector general, he said.

Instead he suggests that GSA made the allegations to cover up pressure from the high-ranking GSA officials on the officer "or maybe because the new contract was signed on terms dictated by the contractor."

GSA spokesperson said Grassley's facts are wrong.

"He uses false innuendo to impugn the motives of GSA management, and, based on his statement regarding his investigation of the Sun Microsystems' matter, this investigation appears to be a conspiracy looking for a theory," a GSA spokesperson said.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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