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Congress shows ignorance with attack on IRS officials after Equifax award

The House Ways and Means Committee's grilling of IRS IT executives earlier this week about a $7 million contract extension to Equifax was an abject lesson in ignorance.

It’s no wonder that problems with the procurement system are so hard to fix, because most members of Congress haven’t a clue about how procurement works.

Equifax has earned the bad press it has been getting recently. But I just had to shake my head as the members of the committee went after IRS officials at a modernization.

Here’s the deal: Equifax has provided fraud prevention and e-authentication services to IRS for several years. They lost the recompete to Experian Information Services.

Equifax then filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office in July.

Protests almost always mean that there is a stay -- think injunction -- that prohibits an agency from moving forward with a contract award until the protest is resolved.

GAO will hand down its decision by Oct. 16.

Meanwhile, the IRS still needs the services that the contract provides. It can’t just give the work to Experian because of the stay.

So they have little choice but to extend Equifax’s contract until the protest is resolved. And that’s what they did. Nothing more, nothing less.

I’ll admit the timing of all of this is very bad, but there is nothing to indicate that the IRS or Equifax did anything wrong.

I do wish the justification document had been posted along with the notice that the IRS was making the award. I’m still trying to get it but why didn’t Congress complain more about that?

But what other choice did the IRS have? Equifax has not been suspended or debarred. You can have a reasonable argument over whether they should be or not. But right now they are not. They are technically in good standing to get contracts.

Congress too often acts like it’s a simple thing to fire a contractor or just change things. The government is a muscle-bound organization so flexibility isn’t a core capability. Plus there are cascading problems and unintended consequences when rash acts are taken.

The committee also harangued the IT officials because they didn’t know about the award.

Listen: the award was $7 million. That’s a lot of money for me and you and individual people, but not so much for a government agency.

The IRS IT budget tops $1 billion, so that $7 million is a fraction of a fraction of less than 1 percent.

The members of the committee who went after the IRS officials were just looking to score easy points. But the conversation did nothing to further the much-needed debate on good governance and management of government IT.

And isn’t that what we want Congress to focus on?

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Oct 06, 2017 at 1:51 PM

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