Pentagon IG says Air Force should redo A-76 competition

A public-private job competition at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas was so riddled with errors that the Air Force should consider holding a new competition, the Pentagon inspector general has concluded. In a report dated May 14, the Pentagon IG blasted the Air Force for its handling of the competition, which was won by Lackland 21st Century Services Consolidated, a California-based contractor, in December. The Air Force reversed itself twice in the competition, leading outraged members of the Texas congressional delegation to request a Pentagon investigation. Air Force officials made improper changes to the in-house bid, allowed untrained personnel to evaluate bids, and permitted an official with a conflict-of-interest to supervise the appeal from the in-house team, the report found. As a result, the outcome of the Lackland competition lacks credibility, the IG said. "The Air Force did not achieve supportable results from the Lackland Air Force Base competition," the report said. The IG offered four alternatives for salvaging the competition, including canceling it, holding a new competition, appointing a new appeal board and directing officials to review changes made to the in-house bid. The Air Force has not decided whether to follow any of the report's recommendations, but expects a decision by the end of July, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Maj. Andree Swanson. The report's recommendations are not binding. In light of the IG's findings, Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, D-Texas, called on the Air Force to conduct a new cost comparison at Lackland and to halt all competitions under way within the Air Education Training Command, the division that conducted the Lackland competition. "The Air Force is obligated to provide a level playing field for all participants in the [OMB Circular] A-76 process, which did not occur in the Lackland study," said Rodriguez. The IG's report found numerous deficiencies in the administration of the competition. Two of the independent review officers assigned to make sure the in-house bid fulfilled the minimum requirements of the competition had little training, the report found. At the next stage in the competition, officials with the source selection authority--the body that evaluates bids and then performs the cost comparison--ordered numerous changes to the in-house bid. "The [in-house] study team members were shocked when they eventually received notice of the quantity of the adjustments ordered by the source selection authority," the report said. Some of these changes were unnecessary, according to the report. After the contractor won the competition and the in-house team filed an appeal, Air Force officials picked a brigadier general to head the appeal board. But this general was a deputy to the chair of the source selection authority, meaning the general had to review decisions made by a superior officer, a potential conflict of interest. "The appeal authority essentially was being asked to determine the propriety of decisions made by a superior officer in command as well as by rank," the report said. The Pentagon has made some reforms to the A-76 process in the wake of the Lackland competition. In February, Defense required all components to develop minimum training requirements for officials who run A-76 competitions. Pentagon officials are also crafting new guidance on "best value" competitions that clarifies the duties of officials in the A-76 process. The guidance will prohibit the source selection authority from making specific changes to the in-house bid, as the authority did in the Lackland competition, according to a draft of the guidance obtained by GovExec.com. Instead, two officials who certify the in-house bid - the independent review official and most-efficient organization (MEO) certifying official - will oversee any changes to the in-house proposal. Defense officials are in the process of coordinating the guidance with components and plan to release it by the end of the summer.
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