The Government Accountability Office (GAO) said in a new report that it sees more opportunities to improve oversight and monitoring of urgent, noncompetitive Department of Homeland Security (DHS) contracts.

DHS acquires billions of dollars in goods and services each year through noncompetitive contracts. Federal agencies are allowed to forego the competition process in contracting if they have an urgent need – like a disaster response. In those cases, however, they have to provide written documentation, according to GAO, and if the original contract cost increases, agency officials need to justify it with revised documentation.

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In a new study, GAO says that DHS hasn’t always followed this process, and recommended that DHS clarify when components should revise documentation in order to ensure appropriate oversight.

“Competition is generally required for federal contract awards, which GAO has found helps the government determine a fair price. But, there are certain exceptions to competition requirements when justified by an urgent need,” wrote GAO. “Spending on urgent contracts increased from $75 million in fiscal year 2016 to $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2020 due to contracts awarded in response to COVID-19, hurricanes, and other needs.”

In all, GAO made three recommendations for DHS to ensure justifications and approvals are revised appropriately:

  1. DHS should ensure it is clearly communicating and enforcing correct procedures to agency officials responsible for entering data accurately into a Federal Procurement Data System;
  2. The agency should ensure officials take action “to better communicate and enforce department guidance to revise justifications and obtain approvals following certain post-award modifications to urgent noncompetitive contracts;” and
  3. The agency should clearly communicate and enforce existing requirements to ensure contracting officials maintain formal contracting officer representative appointment letters in the contract file.

DHS agreed with all three recommendations.

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Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.