PSC says let conflict rule play out before expansion

An industry group is recommending that the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council wait to see how the new rules on personal conflicts of interest (PCI) pan out before expanding coverage.

“It is premature to expand the current FAR PCI coverage because the existing coverage is untested and ambiguous,” Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council, said Jan. 4.

The FAR Council, along with the Office of Government Ethics, posed the question of expansion in November, the same day it announced the final rule to the Federal Acquisition Regulation to address personal conflicts of interest by employees of government contractors.

The rule applies to contractors who are performing acquisition functions closely associated with inherently governmental functions. Inherently governmental functions are jobs that only federal employees are allowed to do, such as entering into a contract on behalf of the government. The rule took effect Dec. 2.

Under the rule, companies must have good oversight to verify compliance and report conflicts to the appropriate contracting officer while disciplining the employee, if necessary.

Companies are also responsible for screening potential employees’ conflicts and telling them about their obligations when taking the job.

In response to officials’ request for information in November, PSC said agencies are only now starting to apply the rules to new contracts and task orders.

In addition, companies that have employees working close to government employee-only acquisition jobs are now beginning their process of developing procedures to screen covered employees for potential conflicts and obtaining a disclosure of interest from each of those employees.

PSC in December held a members meeting to discuss the new rule including a response to the request for information.

“It was clear from that discussion that companies are making a good faith effort to comply with the rule, but that implementation is still a work in progress for them and for the agencies,” PSC wrote in its letter to the FAR Council and ethics office.

Chvotkin said it’s too early to move ahead or identify any lessons the parties have learned since December.

“Over time, common practices are likely to develop to address ambiguities," he said, "and that could be considered in a revision or expansion of the final FAR rule."

About the Author

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

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