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News Briefs: April 15, 2013

Apr. 14, 2013 - 12:28PM   |  
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IG faults no-bid contracting at OPM

Senior Office of Personnel Management officials steered no-bid consulting work to a prominent human relations expert, raising broader concerns about procurement practices in the agency’s human resources services division, according to a new report by the agency’s watchdog.

OPM Inspector General Patrick McFarland said in an interim investigative report dated April 2 that officials, including Michael Grant, counselor to the OPM director, and Kay Ely, former associate director for OPM’s Human Resources Solutions program, gave preferential treatment to contractor Stewart Liff & Associates Inc.

Detailing actions from June 2009 to June 2011, the report said Liff never had to demonstrate the value of his services. The investigation, which is ongoing, centered on about $450,000 through three task orders sent to a “pass through” company so OPM had access to Liff’s services without competitive bidding, the report said.

“Although we did not perform a cost analysis to determine whether the amounts paid for Mr. Liff’s services were reasonable, we take the position that because the federal contracting procedures intended to safeguard taxpayer dollars were not followed, these funds were spent wastefully,” McFarland wrote to then-OPM Director John Berry.

McFarland’s report said it found no wrongdoing by Berry, whose term ended last week.

Liff is a former Senior Executive Service official who now runs a management consulting business. In a phone interview, he said that he didn’t know Ely and Grant and that OPM got its money’s worth for his consulting.

A spokeswoman for OPM declined to comment, pointing to the agency’s official response, in which Berry wrote that the preliminary IG report did not appear to find violations of procurement laws or regulations. Still, Berry wrote that he was “extremely disappointed” about the findings.

Kaplan is acting director at OPM

General Counsel Elaine Kaplan takes over as acting director of the Office of Personnel Management on April 15, following last week’s departure of John Berry.

In his farewell message last week at the end of his four-year term, Berry thanked OPM employees for their service. “From my first day on the job through to today, I’ve known that I could count on this team to accomplish great things,” he said.

Berry was known for his optimistic and passionate speeches defending federal employees. At a March labor-management meeting, an angry-sounding Berry warned that the government risks becoming unable to recruit and retain a qualified workforce if it keeps freezing employees’ pay, cutting their benefits and publicly denigrating them.

The Washington Post reported that Berry is in the running to be ambassador to Australia.

Salaries rise despite pay freeze

The average federal salary increased nearly $1,000 last year, from $77,505 in fiscal 2011 to $78,467, according to statistics posted online by the Office of Personnel Management.

The increase comes at a time when federal pay scales are frozen and is likely due to within-grade step increases and promotions, which were not halted by the freeze.

The average salary has increased $1,881 since the pay freeze began. In fiscal 2010, the average pay was $76,586. But the freeze did slow the rate of increase. Between fiscal 2008 and 2010, the average salary increased more than $5,000.

Jewell confirmed as Interior secretary

Sally Jewell easily won Senate confirmation last week to become the next head of the Interior Department.

The 87-11 vote came two months after President Obama nominated the former banker, oil engineer and CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. to lead the government’s primary public lands agency. Jewell replaces Ken Salazar, who is returning to his home in Colorado.

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