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News Digest: April 1

Mar. 31, 2013 - 09:37AM   |  
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Another hurdle for e-travel contract award

A federal judge has ordered the General Services Administration to re-evaluate bids for its billion-dollar e-travel contract awarded last June.

GSA, which runs the e-travel program for civilian agencies, awarded a $1.4 billion, 15-year contract to Concur Technologies. But work to transition agencies to the Concur e-travel system was delayed by a protest of the contract award by competitor CWT Sato Travel, an existing e-travel vendor to many agencies.

The Government Accountability Office denied CWT Sato’s protest in September, but the company took the matter to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

In an electronic notice filed last week, the judge ordered GSA to re-evaluate CWT’s proposal according to federal contracting standards and the court’s decision, which is under seal until a redacted version is publicly released. Specifically, GSA’s evaluation should follow regulations that prohibit agencies from awarding task-order contracts that exceed $100 million to a single vendor, unless the vendor is the only one qualified and capable of providing the service at a reasonable price.

CWT contested GSA’s decision to award such a large contract to a single vendor and the decision to rate CWT as unqualified and unable to provide services under the new contract, despite having past experience. CWT argued that Concur would have a monopoly on federal travel services, rather than giving agencies freedom to choose their vendor.

The judge did not set a deadline for the evaluation but said the court’s ruling would not cancel Concur’s contract award.

USPS accelerates plant consolidations

The U.S. Postal Service is again trying to get smaller, faster.

On top of 100 mail-processing plants already slated for consolidation this year, the cash-strapped agency is adding 41 others that were previously supposed to be downsized next year.

The Postal Service announced its plan to accelerate those plant consolidations in a notification last week to the union that represents many plant employees.

While most workers are protected from layoffs, some may face reassignment to vacant jobs, Patrick Devine, a USPS contract administration manager, wrote in the letter to the American Postal Workers Union. Devine did not say how many employees work at the affected plants, and the APWU did not have a number.

The union posted the letter on its website, accompanied by a statement from president Cliff Guffey predicting a “devastating” effect on service.

He again urged Congress to pass “meaningful postal reform.”

GSA seeks industry proposals for OASIS

The General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service announced March 28 the release of two draft requests seeking proposals for its planned One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services program.

OASIS would offer a “one-stop shop” for commercial and noncommercial needs while helping eliminate duplication of contracting efforts across government, GSA said in a statement.

“Ensuring full participation from our industry and agency partners in the development of this new acquisition is a priority for GSA’s OASIS team,” FAS Commissioner Tom Sharpe said in the statement.

Survey asks departing execs why they are leaving

The Office of Personnel Management has begun surveying departing members of the Senior Executive Service for feedback on their experiences and reasons for leaving.

The results “will ultimately allow agencies to explore issues that impact retention and succession planning efforts,” Angela Bailey, OPM’s associate director for employee services, wrote in a March 22 memo for human resources directors posted on the agency’s website.

The online survey, developed with input from the Senior Executives Association and the Partnership for Public Service, also asks respondents whether they would recommend SES employment and whether higher pay, more responsibility or other incentives would have encouraged them to stay.

Law tightens screening of IT purchases from China

NASA, the National Science Foundation and the Justice and Commerce departments face stricter rules on acquiring information technology systems from Chinese companies, under the 2013 spending bill President Obama signed last week.

The provision allows agencies to make such purchases, but they’ll first have to get a risk assessment in consultation with the FBI.

In a blog post that drew attention to the provision, Stewart Baker, a Washington lawyer and former Department of Homeland Security official, predicted the rule would have a big impact.

“While the provision doesn’t prohibit purchases of Chinese-government influenced systems, it makes such purchases politically difficult,” he wrote. “How will China react? Not well.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei criticized the measure as “a biased attitude” in remarks at a news briefing, Agence France-Presse reported last week.

The provision came months after the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee issued a report that recommended the federal government stop doing business with Chinese telecommunications firms Huawei and ZTE, citing national security concerns.

SAIC notifies 150 of possible layoffs

Science Applications International Corp. has given 150 employees 60 days’ notice of possible layoffs after the company learned a General Services Administration technology contract it held will not be renewed.

SAIC spokeswoman Jennifer Gephart said the company had provided technical support on GSA’s Advanced Technology Systems requirements. L-3 Communications confirmed that it is the new contractor.

Gephart said SAIC has notified approximately 150 employees working on ATIS of a possible reduction in force effective May 22, “which may result in permanent layoffs.”

She said SAIC is helping employees find new jobs elsewhere in the company, as well as with other companies.

Fundraisers, loans for furloughed feds

As the sequester forces agencies to cut budgets and furlough employees, there are two ways to help out feds in need.

On May 5, the Public Employees Roundtable is hosting a 5K run in Washington to benefit the Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund, which offers small loans to employees in periods of hardship.

FEEA also announced its intention last week to offer $1,000, no-interest loans to furloughed employees. The loan would kick in after an employee’s first paycheck affected by the furlough.

The organization also is soliciting donations from feds to help offer loans to more employees.

Clearance process speeds up, poll shows

Getting a security clearance takes less time than it did two years ago, according to the results of an online poll by ClearanceJobs.com.

Of more than 8,100 respondents to the unscientific survey, conducted between October and January, 57 percent said they received their final clearance within four months, the company said in a news release. Two years ago, approximately the same percentage said that obtaining a final clearance took five months.

While the results show progress, government hiring managers are still losing qualified applicants because of wait times, Evan Lesser, managing director of ClearanceJobs.com, said in an emailed statement. If sequester-related budget cuts slow clearance approvals, he said, agencies could have a harder time recruiting in fields such as cybersecurity.

USPS, board to discuss ban on ending Sat. delivery

Top U.S. Postal Service executives are expected to discuss their “next steps” in an April 9 meeting with the agency’s board after Congress extended a long-standing prohibition on ending Saturday mail delivery, USPS spokesman Dave Partenheimer said last week.

Under a plan unveiled in February, the Postal Service wants to end Saturday mail delivery in early August, although package delivery would continue. But in the fiscal 2013 spending bill signed last week by President Obama, lawmakers require the Postal Service to continue six-day delivery through the end of September.

Bioterror lab risks bared in GAO report

The United States is at increased risk for accidents at laboratories conducting research on potential bioterror germs, such as anthrax, because federal officials have failed to develop national standards for lab design, construction and operation, according to a Government Accountability Office report released last week. GAO called for the standards more than three years ago.

Another recent government audit found failures by federal officials to detect security and safety violations during inspections of bioterror labs. Undetected issues included the transfer of anthrax and plague to an unauthorized facility, and allowing workers at multiple research facilities to remain on the job with expired security risk assessments.

“As a result, there is increased risk of the misuse of select agents and the potential for serious security violations going undetected,” says the November report by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general’s office.

Security at bioterror labs has been a particular concern since the 2001 anthrax letter attacks that killed five and sickened 17. A scientist at an Army biodefense lab was later implicated.

In a statement, spokeswoman Lyndsay Cole said that in January, the inspection program agreed to address all of the auditors’ concerns.

USDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention share responsibility for inspecting labs at about 350 government, academic and commercial organizations registered to work with dangerous germs and toxins that have bioterror potential.

200-plus at Lockheed Martin take buyouts

More than 200 midlevel managers at Lockheed Martin left the company last month with buyouts.

The company announced the voluntary program in February for 4,000 eligible employees in its information systems and global solutions unit. A total of 260 employees applied, and 243 were approved for buyouts, Lockheed spokeswoman Mary Phillips told Federal Times.

The voluntary layoffs were not prompted by automatic budget cuts, but Lockheed’s information systems and global solutions unit is assessing the impacts of the sequester cuts to its business, programs and customers, spokesman Keith Mordoff said last month.

GSA cancels pair of summer conferences

The General Services Administration is canceling two more major conferences.

It will not hold FedForum, formerly FedFleet, slated for July 16 in New Orleans, nor the SmartPay Training Forum, scheduled for Aug. 6 in Chicago, because travel budget cuts have reduced expected attendance.

The cancellations follow on the heels of GSA’s cancellation of its annual Training and Expo, which had been scheduled for May 14 in Orlando, Fla.

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