Value of contracting specialist goes beyond developing contracts
October 4, 2010
The value of government contracting specialists extends well beyond their expertise in developing contracts that are fair to both the government and the supplier. They are also the watchdogs for contracts in place and are entrusted with ensuring the performance of the contract is ethical and legal.
Each year, government contracting specialists, Soldiers and civilians identify unlawful practices that save the government millions of dollars.
"The Army acquisition workforce, like all government procurement officials, bears an enormous responsibility to safeguard the sacred trust as stewards of public funds and to ensure that the government receives the best value and most effective goods and services required by the Warfighter," said Robert Williams, ACC Deputy Command Counsel. "An ethical base to the acquisition workforce is essential to maintaining this public trust. This ethical base is established and maintained by proper screening of acquisition workforce accessions, initial and periodic training on the Joint Ethics Regulation, the Procurement Integrity Act and other ethical topics, and fair and consistent treatment of irregularities within the procurement process. To a government employee hoping to build a successful career in the contracting field, one's professional reputation for scrupulous competency should be above reproach and jealously guarded at all times."
"Contracting officials are the front line of defense against possible instances of contractual abuse. Besides being a general expert in the contracting process, they are the specific subject matter expert on the contracts they manage," said U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command Special Agent William J. Stakes, Jr. "As such, the contracting officials have insight on methodologies that could be used to commit fraud and abuse within that contract. While most contractors perform outstandingly throughout the performance of the contract, there is that percentage who will attempt to personally benefit at the detriment of the government."
And that is what happened to Mark Young, a contracting officer with the Communications and Electronics Command. During a routine post award audit, Young noticed discrepancies with a company's financial reporting documentation. He uncovered information indicating that the company had engaged in violations of the False Claims Act in its billings to the government. Working through his legal office, the discovery was turned over to the Army's CID criminal investigators and the Department of Justice. In the end, Young's alertness saved the government more than $700,000.
"The Army CID's Major Procurement Fraud Unit has actively engaged with ACC in providing fraud awareness briefings, sharing lessons learned and how to identify these red flags or indicators of fraud. Contracting officials can help facilitate identifying instances of fraud by endorsing a culture of compliance," said USACIDC Special agent Donald Lamberth. "Promoting fraud prevention and providing training not only on how to identify fraud within the organization but also by educating personnel associated with the acquisition process on when and who to report suspicious fraudulent activity without repercussion."
Unfortunately, there is a small minority who attempt to use their position for personal gain. When they are caught, and they do get caught, the penalty for abusing the public trust is harsh and exacting.
One high profile scheme that went awry involved U.S. Army Major John Cockerham and three of his family members, caught and sentenced for participation in a bribery and money laundering attempt related to bribes paid for contracts awarded in support of the Iraq War. For their greed, they received a total of more than 26 years in prison combined and restitution of more than $19 million.
In a career field where ethics is as critical as technical knowledge, it's not unheard of for contracting officers to be offered bribes.
The president and chief executive officer of a defense contracting firm in New York, was arrested and charged recently with offering a $100,000 bribe to a Department of Defense contracting officer at Fort Monmouth, N.J.
After being offered what he felt to be a bribe, the contracting officer contacted officials at Fort Monmouth. Soon, the contracting officer found himself assisting in gathering evidence against the would-be briber. The accused faces a maximum potential penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of three times the value of the bribe, $300,000.
"Across the Army acquisition enterprise each year, dozens of allegations of various types of procurement fraud may arise," Williams said. "Each allegation is thoroughly investigated. Such investigations may include allegations, against incumbent and potential suppliers of goods and services, of collusive bidding, defective pricing, improper use of source selection information, and the use of bribes or other improper influences upon government officials, among other illegal or deceptive practices. Each investigation is then adjudicated on the merits of the facts revealed by the investigation. Remedies allowed to the government include contractual remedies, such as the termination of contracts, designating certain companies and their proprietors as ineligible for award of future government contracts, as well as other financial and criminal penalties."
"If approached with an illegal offer, such as a bribe to improperly influence a particular procurement", Williams said. "The offer should be neither accepted nor refused after the initial contact. The government official should take no further official action on the procurement, but should inform their supervisor and the Criminal Investigation Command, Major Procurement Fraud Unit, of the possible illegal offer. Criminal investigators may wish to monitor the approached government official's response to the illegal offer in order to enhance the efficacy of any subsequent prosecution."