Dell Technologies

By Debbie Gregory.

An investigation conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has revealed that of the $6.2 million budget allocated to the Department of Veterans Affairs for suicide prevention outreach in fiscal year 2018, the agency only spent $1.5 million by the end of the fiscal year, leaving $4.7 million unused.

Suicide among veterans is disproportionately higher than the rest of the U.S. population, especially among veterans younger than 35. And in light of the VA leadership touting suicide prevention a top priority, this information begs the question, why?

The suicide prevention budget was meant to cover outreach via social media posts, public service announcements, billboards, and radio, bus, Facebook and print advertisements, which all declined in 2017 and 2018, as did the effort on suicide prevention month.

“VA has stated that preventing veteran suicide is its top clinical priority, yet [the Veterans Health Administration’s] lack of leadership attention to its suicide prevention media outreach campaign in recent years has resulted in less outreach to veterans,” the GAO report states.

The GAO investigation came at the request of Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. He said that the findings conveyed “a deeply troubling level of incompetence” by President Donald Trump’s administration.

“At a time when 20 veterans a day still die by suicide, VA should be doing everything in its power to inform the public about the resources available to veterans in crisis,” Walz said in a statement. “Unfortunately, VA has failed to do that, despite claiming the elimination of veteran suicide as its highest clinical priority.”

The VA blamed leadership vacancies for the downturn, with the former national director for suicide prevention, Caitlin Thompson, resigning in July 2017, and not being replace until the new director, Keita Franklin, was appointed in April, 2018.

“Officials reported not having leadership available for a period of time to make decisions about the suicide prevention media outreach campaign,” the report states. “GAO found that [VA] did not assign key leadership responsibilities or establish clear lines of reporting, and as a result, its ability to oversee the outreach campaign was hindered. Consequently, [the VA] may not be maximizing its reach with suicide prevention media content to veterans, especially those who are at-risk.”

“This year, I’m making sure that we are spending the funding 100 percent,” said Dr. Steven Lieberman, who is in charge of the Veterans Health Administration. “I’m reviewing the budget monthly and making sure we have obligated all the dollars. We have to get it right.”

JEDI Contract Competition Spurs Lawsuit

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Pentagon has yet to make a decision as to what company will be awarded a multi-billion dollar contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract, the cloud technology infrastructure that will handle unclassified material as well as data classified as secret or top secret.

The choice to go with a single-award, indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity contract for the project has had tech companies taking their gripes to federal court. It is believed that Amazon Web Services is the front-runner.

Oracle filed a suit against the Department of Defense in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in early December, and the redacted complaint was published December 10th.

Oracle has claimed since the start of the process that this approach would lock the government into legacy tech and could damage innovation, competition and security – and that it goes against various rules on government procurement for high-value awards.

The lawsuit repeated these assertions, but also alleges conflicts of interest within the DoD and that the Pentagon “crafted” the request for proposals criteria to limit the number of vendors that could compete.

It also claims the government has introduced “unduly restrictive requirements” into the criteria required for vendors to bid, which will “cause Oracle significant competitive prejudice”.

IBM, which first filed a protest of JEDI October 10th, filed additional materials with Government Accountability Office (GAO) November 19th in support of its claim that the DoD has turned its back on the wishes of Congress and the administration, as well as industry best practice in cloud acquisition.

Lawmakers have already called for an investigation into the JEDI contract, saying that it appeared tailored to one specific vendor.

The GAO has until February 27, 2019, to issue a decision on IBM’s protest.

By Debbie Gregory.

Faced with criticism over how it awarded a contract to move computer systems to the Internet cloud, the Pentagon has slashed a nearly $1 billion contract down to no more than $65 million, while also scaling back the scope of the work. The revision will limit its use to only U.S. Transportation Command rather than the entire Defense Department.

The contract awarded to Herndon, Virginia-based REAN Cloud—an Amazon Web Services partner, has come under scrutiny by those who feel that the procurement wasn’t handled properly, charges that Pentagon officials strongly denied.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Robert Manning said that after reviewing the contract, the Defense Department decided that “the agreement should be more narrowly tailored” so that Rean would build a prototype service for a single agency, the U.S. Transportation Command, instead of many agencies within the military.

Oracle filed a bid protest with the Government Accountability Office last month that called the procurement “an egregious abuse” of the procurement process for a contract that it charged was “shrouded in secrecy.”

Additionally, the Pentagon was criticized because the original contract was awarded by the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx ) which was created to procure the technology of Silicon Valley-type companies that mostly shy away from Pentagon work. DIUx is fast-moving to provide non-dilutive capital to companies to solve national defense problems, usually in under 90 days.

The procurement, a follow-on to a smaller competed contract, was awarded under an “other transaction authority,” a way for the Pentagon to procure goods and services quickly without being subject to the bureaucratic federal acquisitions process.

Critics of the “other transaction authority” process say such arrangements are not competitive and insufficiently transparent.

By Debbie Gregory.

Vets First, a policy that gives preference to veteran-owned small businesses, has long been circumvented by the Department of Veterans Affairs. This is in direct defiance of orders from Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and more recently, the U.S. Supreme Court.

The program was created for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses and expanded the Service-Disabled Veteran contracting program for VA procurements. It was designed to ensure that legitimately owned and controlled VOSBs and SDVOSBs are able to compete for VA VOSB and SDVOSB set-aside and are credited by VA’s large prime contractors for subcontract plan achievements.

In Kingdomware Technologies, Inc. v. United States, the court ruled that not only was the VA disregarding VETS First, but in moving forward, the department’s “rule of two” should be used for all VA procurements.

The “rule of two” states a contracting officer of the VA, “shall award contracts on the basis of competition restricted to small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans if the contracting officer has a reasonable expectation that two or more small business concerns owned and controlled by veterans will submit offers and that the award can be made at a fair and reasonable price that offers best value to the United States.”

In order to be in compliance, the VA must:

Revise its acquisition policies and training to ensure better oversight of its contracting activities;
Improve the ability for veteran-owned small businesses to obtain Federal Supply Schedule contracts for the products the VA buys; and
Discontinue its use of contract vehicles that do not contain veteran-owned small businesses.

With more than 7,000 veteran and service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses in the U.S. that have met the Vets First criteria, there is no excuse for the not to award contracts to these businesses.