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The CFPB expedited competitively awarded contracts in some instances based on urgent requests from program officials. To satisfy such requests, the CFPB shortened certain aspects of the procurement process. An internal CFPB training document, as well as the FAR, states that issuing requirements on an urgent basis generally restricts competition. Although the FAR permits streamlined procedures for procuring certain goods and services,10 we believe that particular elements of the contracting process, such as acquisition planning and market research, should precede other milestones, including proposal solicitation. Although we understand that the procurement team must expedite the contracting process in some cases (and that the FAR permits limiting competition when certain urgent and compelling needs exist), we believe that the CFPB should strengthen contract file documentation by developing a policy that requires program officials to document appropriate justification for urgent procurement requests, regardless of whether full or limited competition is proposed.
During our sample review, we found instances in which the CFPB competitively awarded contracts within compressed time frames that were shorter than those prescribed in the CFPB's internal lead-time guidance but still in compliance with the FAR.11 According to CFPB officials, the procurement team expedited these contract awards in response to urgent requests from CFPB program officials and as a result of procurement staffing challenges. We could not determine the reason for the urgency in each case we reviewed.
For one contract, which had a lead time of four days,12 we found that (1) the acquisition plan and control sheet were approved after the solicitation was released and (2) the legal review, proposal evaluation, and contract selection were completed on the same day. We did find documentation of the urgency of this particular contract in the form of a memorandum signed on the date of the contract award. A procurement official told us that staff resources were constrained at the time and that program officials expected a quick turnaround for their request. In addition, the official stated that this contract was one of the first actions that the CFPB processed on its own.
In another contract identified as urgent, a program official communicated concern to the contracting officer that the CFPB's nine-day solicitation window did not provide appropriate time for offerors to reply to a solicitation. In this case, the CFPB contracting officer responded that as much time as possible should be provided to the CFPB to prepare the award documents instead of providing additional time for vendors to respond to the solicitation. In this case, the contracting officer did extend the solicitation window by one day. Unlike the example provided above, it was unclear why this procurement was considered urgent.
Internal CFPB guidance, as well as the FAR, advise that personnel should avoid issuing requirements on an urgent basis or with unrealistic delivery schedules since it generally restricts competition and increases prices. Moreover, in our benchmarking research, another federal agency's procurement official commented that procurement staff should not neglect aspects of the contracting process when time crunches result from urgent requests. Accordingly, although we understand that the CFPB may encounter circumstances as a relatively new agency that require flexibility to expedite the procurement process, we believe that documenting the rationale for urgent procurement requests will provide additional transparency to stakeholders who may review the CFPB's procurement decisions.
We recommend that the Assistant Director for Procurement
The Assistant Director for Procurement concurred with recommendation 3. In his response, the Assistant Director highlighted that our review period included the CFPB's early implementation stages when expedited procurement processes were necessary. The Assistant Director noted that competition was not limited for expedited actions and that the office has made progress in reducing the number of expedited procurements since our audit. The Assistant Director also noted that "as the Bureau matures and our staffing plan is fully realized, our focus has been applied to enterprise-wide procurement planning across the Bureau." Further, he stated that even though the office has ensured compliance with the FAR, "our pipeline infrastructure puts us in even a better position to plan and solicit for procurement actions without the use of expedited timelines." The Assistant Director plans to develop an Expedited Need request form, the use of which will require justification for expedited procurement processes and approval by the Office of Procurement.
In our opinion, the actions described by the Assistant Director are appropriate for the recommendation, and we plan to follow up on the Office of Procurement's actions to ensure that the recommendation is fully addressed.