How Agencies Bury Noncompetitive Procurements

Mark Shearin Images/

In many cases, they don’t disclose what they spent on sole-source contracts awarded at the end of the fiscal year.

I get a daily FedBizOpps feed of widget and gadget procurements and awards, and have spent literally hours the past two days poring through year-end sole source contract awards.

These are taxpayer dollars expended in an end-of-fiscal-year “use it or lose it” frenzy, but eyeballing these sole source awards is a manual process that requires opening multiple windows to divine what agencies bought and how much they spent.

In many cases agencies don’t disclose what they spent on the sole source contracts, which raises my reporter antenna.

The justification for these non-competitive awards all contain standard boiler plate language -- only Vendor X can supply the gadget, software or service and if the contract is not extended or the gizmo acquired, vital operations will cease, often with a threat to national security.

Some of these non-competitive awards seem to be stuff that a variety of vendors could provide. In this category the Veterans Affairs Department should win an award of its own for a contract to install interactive patient televisions at its hospital in Iron Mountain, Mich.

VA said only Optimal Solutions Inc. can meet its minimal needs for this job (with an undisclosed dollar amount). A quick Google search popped up more than a dozen vendors in the first three pages who sell interactive patient televisions.

But it’s not just VA. Here’s another one: Computer servers are commodity items, built for the most part overseas, with only the end vendor logo to differentiate one box from another. The Joint Interagency Task Force South, which conducts antidrug operations out of the Naval Air Station in Key West, Fla., can only conduct its mission with Dell Power Edge servers, according to its justification and approval notice for the sole source buy.

The Task Force has multiple aging and out-of-warranty Dell servers that it said provide “vital services,” and buying another brand would require “establishment of new IT standards, images and operating procedures,” it said as justification for the Dell award.

The Justice Department CIO extended its contract with VanDyke Technology for secure network support from the end of the 2013 fiscal year at a cost of $1.1 million until next March because, among other things, its personnel have top secret clearances, a requirement no other potential vendor can satisfy, Justice said in its sole source justification. I thought I was the only guy in the country without a top secret clearance.

The Army Engineer Research and Development Center, or ERDC, in Vicksburg, Miss., needs an outfit “to provide expertise for the Strategic Development” -- whatever that means -- of the organization, and only Information International Associates can do the job, the Corps said in its sole source notice.

These are just a handful of the sole source awards I have read through in the past two days. I wish there was a way we could automate the process and put all the info into a nifty dashboard. My paranoid side believes this process is deliberately difficult to ensure opacity rather than transparency. 

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(Image via Mark Shearin Images/