GSA Must Be Held Accountable for Bannister PR Contract
Crisis PR contract awarded improperly
March 2, 2011
WASHINGTON, D.C. -The Senate Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight led by Chairman Claire McCaskill today questioned the General Services Administration's decision to award a costly public relations contract to help the agency respond to concerns about potential contamination at the Bannister Federal Complex in Kansas City, MO.
McCaskill asked for answers from the officials responsible and demanded better accountability for contracting errors that ultimately cost the government valuable tax dollars. The subcommittee's investigation of the contract exposed serious problems in contract management and a failure by the federal government to hold employees accountable for not competing the contract or controlling costs.
"The bottom line here is that we had a one-day, non-competitive, sole-source contract with the work order written by the contractor," McCaskill said at the hearing.
The General Services Administration (GSA), the government agency responsible for the contract, paid a Kansas City public relations firm, Jane Mobley Associates, Inc., a total of $234,000 for three months worth of work. The contract was awarded in approximately twenty-four hours and bypassed normal contract protocol such as conducting an independent cost estimate. The statement of work, which outlines what the government expects of the contractor, was written by the firm receiving the contract, a clear conflict of interest.
Additionally, the contract was awarded without any competition and instead was given to Jane Mobley Associates, Inc. on the grounds that the government had an "urgent and compelling" need for public relations services. The subcommittee's investigation found that circumstances of the contract did not justify limiting competition for the contract based on federal acquisition regulations.
GSA entered into this contract soon after the media began reporting illnesses among employees at Bannister and raised suspicions that the illnesses were related to contamination. The contract also came one day after then-Senator Kit Bond requested that an independent watchdog, the GSA Inspector General (IG), investigate the allegations.
McCaskill said that one of her biggest concerns is the failure of GSA to hold any employees accountable for the agency's mistakes.
"I'm not aware of anyone who suffered any kind of accountability because of the mistakes that were made surrounding this contract. That's troubling to me. I don't think that would happen in the private sector," McCaskill said. "I think it's important that we demonstrate to the public that when mistakes are made that someone is held accountable, and I'm not convinced that is the case in this particular contract."
McCaskill has worked to reform contracting throughout the federal government for over four years in an effort to reduce waste and save tax dollars. She passed legislation in 2007 to establish the Wartime Contracting Commission to investigate waste, fraud, and abuse in contracting related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. McCaskill requested the formation of the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight in early 2009 and was named chairman. In her role as chairman of the subcommittee, McCaskill has investigated contracting problems government-wide.
A memo with background information about the subcommittee's investigation, as well as relevant documents, is available here. A copy of the IG audit memo released last week is available here, and the initial report prepared by the IG last fall is available here.
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