Urgency Exceptions for War-Zone Contracts Mostly Justified, GAO Finds

Afghan security forces and U.S. soldiers arrive at the site where a suicide attacker rammed a car bomb into a NATO convoy killing two foreign civilian contractors, in the Afghan capital Kabul, Afghanistan on Feb. 10, 2014. Afghan security forces and U.S. soldiers arrive at the site where a suicide attacker rammed a car bomb into a NATO convoy killing two foreign civilian contractors, in the Afghan capital Kabul, Afghanistan on Feb. 10, 2014. Rahmat Gul/AP

Three agencies working in war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq have rightly taken advantage of urgency exceptions that allow single-source contracting, the Government Accountability Office found. Auditors did, however, fault managers for failing to post accurate procurement data in some instances.

The Defense and State departments and the U.S. Agency for International Development from 2010 to 2012 invoked a legal and regulatory exception and signed noncompetitive contracts in awards ranging from 1 percent to 12 percent of their obligations, GAO reported on Wednesday.

During those three years, the Pentagon obligated $12.5 billion noncompetitively to procure goods and services using the exception; State obligated $582 million; and USAID, about $20 million, GAO reported. Governmentwide the total of noncompeted contracts in fiscal 2013 amounted to $164 billion, or 36 percent of overall contracting.

But, 28 of the 62 contracts for such needs as personal armor, guard services and communications “were incorrectly coded as having used the urgency exception when they did not,” the report said. GAO also found that “20 of the 28 miscoded contracts were awarded using procedures that are more simple and separate from the requirements related to the use of the urgency exception.”

Some contracts, GAO added, were extended for longer than the one year that is allowable under the urgency exception as defined by statute and under the Federal Acquisition Regulation, and the requirement that contracting officers consider as many competing vendors as is practicable was not always followed. For some contracts, “lack of access to technical data rights and reliance on contractor expertise prevented agencies from obtaining competition,” GAO wrote in the report mandated by the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.

Officials also sometimes failed to understand transparency requirements, the report said. “For 15 of the justifications we reviewed, we could not confirm whether justifications were posted to the FedBizOpps website within the required time frames, or at all, as no documentation was available,” auditors wrote. “Some officials told us that justifications were not posted due to an administrative oversight.”

GAO noted that the White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy is in a position to clarify when the urgency exception should apply. Auditors recommended that OFPP and the three agencies disseminate guidance to contracting officers to improve documentation of the justifications. The agencies agreed.

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