Inspector general tells GSA to double-check contracts with e-tools

Unauthorized changes and inaccurate information create legal and fiscal risk for agency.

The General Services Administration should rely more on electronic tools to reduce the number of mistakes and unauthorized approvals in its Multiple Award Schedule contracts, the agency's inspector general said.

According to a report released this month, weaknesses in oversight of the contracting process at the Integrated Technology Services' Center for Information Technology Schedules Program have led to errors in the award and modification of Multiple Award Schedule contracts. In fiscal 2009, the center was responsible for more than 5,400 MAS contracts worth more than $15 billion.

GSA has two applications that can check if contracts are following the proper procedures as they move through the many steps to award. The agency can use eOffer and eMod, which are Web-based systems that let vendors electronically submit contract offers and modifications. The inspector general found that GSA uses the applications in less than 30 percent of contracting actions.

The tools offer an automated, controlled process for completing contract documents not found in the paper-based process, the inspector general found. For example, vendors and contracting officers must review and digitally sign files in eOffer before the award process can move forward, which ensures that documents haven't been overlooked. EMod, which feeds revisions back to GSA's electronic procurement tools, will accept digital signatures only from the contracting officer and the vendor's official negotiators, preventing unauthorized contract specialists from activating changes.

But auditors found contract specialists can input and change award information -- and possibly introduce errors -- without the approval of a contracting officer. GSA should integrate stronger access controls as it rolls out its systems modernization, which is scheduled for completion in fiscal 2015, the report concluded.

Larry Allen, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said inconsistencies in senior leadership and an increasing workload have affected management at the IT center. ITS Assistant Commissioner Ed O'Hare has asked for resources to address the problems, he added.

"The findings of this report aren't necessarily solely indicative of rank-and-file people at the IT center not hitting their marks," Allen said. Many contracting personnel aren't comfortable with the new technologies, and more training will be required to familiarize them with the systems, he added.

"Part of the problem here is driven by past IG reports that have found problems but have not done a great job of offering explanations," Allen said. "There's some due diligence the IG needs to do in terms of the effects its findings have on behavior at the [IT center]."

In comments submitted to the inspector general, Federal Acquisition Service acting Commissioner Steve Kempf agreed with the report's findings.