ITAA Slams Government Contract Push

A leading technology industry association lashed out at a recently implemented federal government program that seeks to rein in information technology costs by requiring additional reviews before contracts can be modified.

The Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) said the program, announced by the U.S. General Services Administration over the summer and known as “Get It Right,” penalizes technology vendors that follow the instructions of their government customers.

ITAA President Harris Miller criticized the program in a letter to the GSA. In a statement, he called the oversight initiative “unfair and unproductive.”

“We are deeply concerned that the results of these reviews are being used — unreasonably in our view — to question the integrity of, and to otherwise penalize, contractors that have performed work that the Government determines after the fact to be beyond the scope of the underlying contract,” Miller said.

“This apparently is true even when the contractor has performed the work as ordered and requested by an authorized Government contracting officer.”

Seeking Accountability

Especially troubling to the association is the possibility that contractors who perform what is determined to be “out-of-scope,” even at the direction of their government contacts, might be forced to cover those additional costs.

That might force contractors who work with federal agencies, especially the Defense Department, which is a main focus of the program, to build additional overhead costs into their bids.

The GSA, which provides policy and technical assistance to government agencies, says “Get It Right” is not aimed at punishing contractors but instead is designed to get agencies to draw up contracts that accurately reflect the scope of work to be done.

Change orders and additional work can often tack millions of dollars onto the total cost of large-scale IT projects, said GSA spokesperson Mary Alice Johnson.

“The program is a way to be more proactive in monitoring how contracts are being administered to ensure the agencies and the taxpayers are getting the best value possible,” Johnson told the E-Commerce Times.

Competition for Government Contracts

The GSA said it hopes the program will improve competition for government contracts, make existing rules clearer for both contractors and government agency workers and ensure accountability for contract overruns and changes.

While most of the burden in the program falls on the government agencies, contractors are now required to report to the GSA when they believe they are asked to do work that is beyond the scope of their original contract language.

Brian Terrill, an analyst with federal IT research firm Input, said the GSA is likely targeting the Defense Department because it accounts for the vast majority of all IT-related contracts. In 2003, for instance, the DOD awarded more than US$83 billion worth of contracts compared to $32 billion doled out by civilian agencies.

“The Defense Department has an incredible impact on the IT industry as whole,” Terrill told the E-Commerce Times. “Defense spending and homeland security spending in the Bush administration is growing much faster than other areas.”

Given the scope of the contracts, change orders are a regular occurrence that have been identified as a potential source of waste, he added.

Job Slowdown

In a separate report released Wednesday, the ITAA said the number of jobs in information technology fields has been growing, but that growth would slow down.

IT employment rose 2 percent over last year and does not show signs of picking up speed, according to the report, which was based on a survey of IT hiring managers.

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