Bonneville Power Administration Faulted for Lax Oversight of Contractors

Energy watchdog cites risk of private workers doing inherently governmental tasks.

The Energy Department’s Bonneville Power Administration, which employs more contractors than federal workers out of its Portland, Ore., headquarters, has fallen short in monitoring the outsourcing of tasks that may be inherently governmental, a watchdog found.

In a Dec. 29 audit, acting Energy Department inspector general Rickey Hass—responding to a 2015 hotline complaint—said Bonneville’s administration of 1,921 active service contracts worth $2.6 billion in some cases “created prohibited personal services contracts by establishing improper employer/employee relationships with supplemental labor workers.”

Only one of several allegations in the hotline complaint was substantiated in the audit of a judgmental sample of 20 of the 3,117 contract workers. But “the issues we identified occurred, in part, because of problems with the manner in which Bonneville managed and implemented its supplemental labor category of contract workers, lack of a strategic workforce plan, insufficient management and oversight of its contractor workforce, and an inadequate procurement control environment,” the IG wrote.

Specifically, it found that Bonneville’s Purchasing Instructions defined oversight roles and responsibilities normally performed by contracting offices, contracting officer’s technical representatives and managers as activities “generally related to inspecting and accepting work and ensuring specific tasks were accomplished as required by the contract.”

Those instructions “did not provide specific management and oversight responsibilities to ensure contract workers did not perform inherently governmental and critical work that should be reserved for federal employees,” it said.

The watchdog recommended that the BPA review its contract terms and administration of supplemental labor laws to make sure there are no personal services contracts. It also recommended developing a comprehensive strategic workforce plan to find an appropriate mix and number of federal contract services.

BPA managers agreed. 

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