FAA Taking Sharper Look at Contracts

Questionable billing and hiring practices by a government contractor have spurred the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to determine whether certain contracts are costing the agency more money than they save.

According to the Washington Post, the FAA is now reviewing so-called support services contracts with hundreds of small businesses because of problems with D.C.-based Crown Consulting Inc, which has 58 different contracts with the FAA worth up to $135 million.

One of the company's $16 million contracts was called into question when a contracting officer found multiple problems, including invoices for an unapproved trip to Las Vegas, for example. The officer, Debra Srite, also found that Crown had hired the wife of a top FAA official and that he ordered her kept on the payroll even after the contract ended. The company also developed an error-plagued computer software system that was never used.

Support services contracts allow the FAA to award business to certain pre-qualified small companies. The contracts are often open-ended, with the payment based on hours of service rather than specific performance standards. The FAA's review of these contracts comes on the heels of an announcement that the Transportation Department's inspector general would investigate and audit FAA contracting practices.

Crown Chief Executive Afzal I. Khan said in a statement that his company provided "backup data" to the inspector general that show "there is no validity to the allegations" and that "substantiate all of our invoices.”

Federal Aviation Administrator Marion C. Blakey, in a statement to the Post, said, "The actions the FAA is taking are part of larger efforts to fundamentally change the culture of how we spend money at the FAA."

This week, the FAA announced management controls for support service contracts. Changes include ethics training for FAA employees and a requirement that contractors must disclose whether they plan to use employees who are related to current FAA employees. The FAA said it also will require open bidding for all new support service contracts worth $1 million or more or for changes to existing contracts worth more than $1 million in new work. Contracts of more than $10 million will require more stringent reviews.

Srite said she did not hesitate to bring her concerns to higher officials, but she told the Post that she will not be surprised if her career suffers.

"It's our personal obligation, especially when representing our government, to represent the public interest," Srite said. "My purpose was never to harm anyone. I came to work and I sat in a chair and all I knew how to do was contracting. I went about the procedures I thought were right."

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