- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs gave a no-bid contract worth up to $9.2 million to a company on the same day VA investigators blasted its lack of experience in a contract steering scandal that has ensnared a top Treasury Department official.

The VA’s technology acquisition center signed off on the award to Tridec Industries on Dec. 8. That’s the same day that the VA’s inspector general issued a “restricted” report that found two former VA officials steered millions of dollars to Tridec for the agency’s so called “virtual office of acquisition” project, which auditors have deemed wasteful.

The inspector general report, which was made public after a Freedom of Information Act request by The Washington Times, also concluded that VA officials gave Tridec credit for past contract work it never performed. The company had barely been incorporated when it started to position itself for work that eventually would total about $15 million in no-bid contracts.

SEE ALSO: VA severs ties with embattled contractor that sought to ‘assassinate’ official’s character

“The fact that Tridec was a new company with no past performance, it is questionable whether it would have been awarded the contract if the requirement was completed,” the inspector general concluded in its Dec. 8 report.

The contract award on the same day for Tridec was for “maintenance and sustainment” of the VA’s virtual office of acquisition, including updates and bug fixes.

Last year, VA auditors criticized the project in a report that found $13 million in waste because of duplication with the VA’s existing electronic contract-management system.

SEE ALSO: VA moves to fire executive for abusing her authority

“Moving forward, VA is incurring sustainment costs for two similar contract management systems,” auditors concluded at the time.

Neither the VA nor the inspector general’s office returned messages Wednesday about the latest sole-source contract action. A Tridec official declined to comment and referred questions to the VA’s public affairs office.

Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs’, said the contract to Tridec raises questions about the integrity of VA’s procurement process in light of last year’s audit findings on a project that he called a “case study in bad government.”

“Now we find out that VA has approved up to $9 million in additional payments for the company, which likely shouldn’t have received the VOA project in the first place,” Mr. Miller said in a statement to The Times.

“Clearly, this project is in dire need of adult supervision and VA’s technology and acquisition center, which is in charge of this effort, needs a thorough house cleaning.”

Despite its lack of a track record, Tridec was helped by insider connections, according to investigators.

Two officials with the company knew the former head of the VA’s acquisition operations office, Iris Cooper. She pushed for Tridec’s hiring and even gave the company information from another federal agency that Tridec in turn used as part of its technical and pricing proposals to the VA, according the inspector general report.

But Ms. Cooper left the VA before investigators finished their probe, accepting a job as the Treasury Department’s senior procurement executive earlier this year.

Treasury officials have said they didn’t know about the misconduct probe into Ms. Cooper when she was hired. On Monday, a spokesman said the findings would not affect her current job, but added a day later that the department would discuss “appropriate next steps” with the Treasury’s inspector general, which is investigating the hiring at the request of Mr. Miller’s committee staff.

Meanwhile, Ms. Cooper disputed the inspector general’s findings: “The report is biased, misleading and completely disregards a number of critical facts, including that Ms. Cooper recused herself from the VOA contracting process,” attorney David Schertler said in a statement.

There’s no indication anyone from the VA or the inspector general’s office ever sought to notify Treasury about the seriousness of the misconduct probe. The VA’s inspector general said through a spokeswoman that it would have been up to the VA to alert Treasury.

But VA officials have declined to discuss the situation. However, a spokeswoman lauded Ms. Cooper when reports surfaced earlier this year in that she left the agency for the Treasury job. At the time, a VA spokeswoman told the Federal Times that officials were sad to see her leave and would miss her experience.

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