FDA falls short on IT contract management, watchdog finds

U.S. government photo

An audit of the agency's IT contract spend found that FDA officials failed to file acquisition information such as contract performance evaluations and competition efforts.

The Department of Health and Human Services' internal watchdog found that the Food and Drug Administration failed to follow certain acquisition policies tied to how it manages its information technology contracts.

The Office of Inspector General report, released last week, found that agency officials did not follow existing acquisition and procurement policies and procedures, such as appointing a contracting officer's representative, or COR, to monitor contractors' performance. Auditors looked at a portion of the FDA's $2.3 billion in contracts for IT equipment and services between fiscal 2018 and 2021, 

The FDA's contracting officers — who are tasked with ensuring that acquisitions adhere to applicable law, policies and procedures — also failed to complete contractor performance evaluations, document key contracting decisions and activities or include the required acquisition strategy statement in contract plans, the OIG said. 

As a result, the report noted that the lapses "could lead to repeat nonconformity with federal acquisition and procurement requirements in the administration and management of orders and missed opportunities to further improve competition for IT procurements within FDA.” 

The OIG examined five contracts from the time period totaling $23.6 million in IT spend, finding that on two contracts, that a COR wasn't designated to monitor performance and a contracting officer's required signature was missing from the COR memo on a third.

FDA officials also failed to complete contract checklists designed to ensure contract requirements are completed. 

On two contracts, FDA officials failed to complete contractor performance assessments, with the agency citing high staff turnover in the previous three years and that the personnel responsible for completing the assessments likely left before they were complete.

The agency also did not provide required documentation of key contracting decisions on four of the five contracts examined, which could lead to post-award problems for officials, the report said.

"If a dispute occurs during the performance of a contract, the lack of documentation could make it difficult for FDA to defend a protest against the government,” the report said. "If there is a protest of the contract award, the government would likely lose the protest if it was unable to provide contemporaneous documentation of its decision-making process.”

FDA officials also failed to submit Annual Competition Advocate Reports for both fiscal 2019 and 2020. The reports describe the contracting office's efforts to promote competition and remedy any issues that would inhibit it. 

FDA officials told the OIG that HHS, which oversees the agency, "did not send the applicable instructions and data” to draft the reports and that they were still awaiting them. However, the OIG noted that the data needed to draft the reports was currently available on the Federal Procurement Data System. 

The OIG offered three recommendations to make sure FDA is consistently using existing acquisition policies and keeping up with required reports. FDA officials concurred with the recommendations.