The Office of Inspector General (OIG) has found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) did not always accurately report COVID-19 contract data.
OIG recently started an audit to determine to what extent FEMA followed federal and departmental procedures and guidelines for awarding COVID-19 contracts to vendors in unusual and urgent circumstances. The watchdog was unable to complete the audit however, in order to avoid interference with other ongoing OIG activities.
As part of its pandemic response, from March 13, 2020 through May 31, 2020, FEMA awarded 52 contracts, which included 128 contract actions, with a total value of almost $6.9 billion under Federal Acquisition Regulation criteria in Section 6.302-2. This section allows agencies to forego normal competitive procedures under unusual and compelling urgency.
The General Services Administration created a new National Interest Action (NIA) code in the Federal Procurement Data System (FPDS) to track acquisition costs for agencies responding to the coronavirus pandemic.
The truncated audit found that of 128 COVID-19 contract actions, totaling almost $6.9 billion, FEMA mislabeled the competitive status of approximately 33 percent of the contract actions and also did not accurately report more than four percent of contract actions as COVID-19-specific. OIG said this occurred because FEMA’s process for ensuring correct contract data in the FPDS did not detect the inaccuracies. As a result, FPDS has incorrect COVID-19 contract data that OIG said could affect decision making amid a global health care emergency.
OIG has therefore recommended that FEMA’s Chief Component Procurement Officer develop and implement policies and procedures to ensure FEMA completely, accurately, and promptly reports contracting data to FPDS.
FEMA disagreed with the recommendation, stating that there are ample policies and procedures for FPDS reporting. FEMA described DHS’ FPDS validation and verification (V&V) process, in which FEMA reviews a sample of FPDS data quarterly and certifies annually to DHS’ Chief Procurement Officer. FEMA also provided examples of guidance it provides its contracting officers on finalizing and correcting records in FPDS and an example of a V&V report that it distributes biweekly for contracting officers to make corrections.
In response to FEMA, OIG acknowledged that FEMA has policies and procedures for reporting data in FPDS but underlined that FEMA did not detect the errors found in the audit. “The V&V report only reviews certain data fields, which do not include the NIA code,” OIG noted. “Without OIG presenting the errors to FEMA, it is unclear when FEMA would have corrected them.”
Recently, OIG found that system limitations hindered FEMA’s ability to track spending associated with response to the COVID-19 pandemic.