Federal News Radio recently turned to Federal Practice Group Founding Partner Debra D'Agostino for her insight on the current controversy surrounding the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and their cyber contract with Winvale Group LLC. Winvale Group LLC was hired last year to help secure digital information for the agency and monitor identity and credit activity of victims of an early 2015 cyber breach.
In summation, the current flap over the contract has culminated with a letter from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chairman, Representative Jason Chaffetz, calling for the removal of OPM acting Director Beth Cobert. The letter is in a response to recent review of OPM's procurement office, which found that the OPM violated the federal contract award process when hiring Winvale Group LLC. The specifics of the findings include inadequate market research, failure to consult with specialists, and failing to obtain an independent government cost estimate, among other violations.
According to Attorney D'Agostino, the alleged shortcomings in the OPM contract award process were likely due to pressure from above. "I suspect that mistakes were made by the contracting officers because they were under tremendous pressure to meet these deadlines,” she told the radio station. "I have represented federal employees who have faced adverse actions from doing things in the violation of FAR (the Federal Acquisition Regulation). It’s not the kind of thing you can be fast and loose with: Your ‘I’s’ are supposed to be dotted, your ‘T’s’ are supposed to be crossed."
"NOT UNREASONABLE TO PLACE BLAME AT THE TOP"
Attorney D'Agostino also elaborated on how individual workers ("the little guy") will often take blame for such protocol violations, but that the cause of such pressures are often systemic. "I can’t believe the contracting officers intentionally violated [the FAR]. Some GS-13 contracting officer isn’t going to screw that up," Attorney D'Agostino said. "That would have been on the front page of the papers. I’m sure they were under this tremendous pressure. I mean, it’s hard to say responsibility shouldn’t sit at the top, as opposed to having these poor contracting officers fired."
An examination of the compressed timeline of events—from an initial April breach announcement to the contact award deadline of June 8—seems to also indicate a brief window the OPM had to actually secure solutions. "It’s not shocking something got messed up," Attorney D'Agostino concluded.