- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2014

The Department of Veterans Affairs acknowledged it received no advance notice before awarding a contract worth millions to a company recently named in a VA contract-steering investigation that has led to calls for the firing of the Treasury’s senior procurement executive.

The VA awarded the contract worth up to $9.2 million to Tridec Technologies on Dec. 5, three days before a “restricted access” VA inspector general’s report found that two former agency officials steered millions of dollars to the company in 2009, despite its lack of experience.

VA officials also last week changed the award date in online contract records from Dec. 8 to Dec. 5 hours after The Washington Times raised questions about why the agency awarded the contract on the same day the inspector general issued its findings.

Hours after The Times’ inquiry, VA changed the award date and modified key terms to say there was full and open competition — information omitted in an earlier record.

A VA spokeswoman blamed “system errors” for the need for the changes, but insisted that the latest records correctly note that the contract was competitively solicited. That information wasn’t included on an earlier record since scrubbed from the government’s online procurement system.

VA’s contracting office was never told about the ongoing inspector general’s investigation when it awarded the contract to Tridec, according to spokeswoman Genevieve Billia. The blanket purchase order award to the company is worth up to $9.2 million, but VA officials haven’t yet issued any orders on the contract.

SEE ALSO: Treasury Department probes hiring of VA official under investigation for misconduct

“VA’s Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction was provided no early notification of when the OIG report was to be published nor were the report findings made public until Friday, Dec. 12 therefore the contracting officer would not have had any knowledge prior to the award,” she said.

The report was issued on Dec. 8, with a copies sent both to VA’s chief of staff and the Office of Acquisition and Logistics. But it was not released publicly until days later following a Freedom of Information Act request by The Washington Times.

It’s not unusual for inspector general offices to issue management alerts to agencies about progress on significant investigations, though officials declined to say whether that happened in this case.

The changed contract is the latest issue in a scandal that has one veterans group calling for the Treasury Department to fire Iris Cooper, a former VA acquisitions executive who that department’s inspector general found improperly steered business to a company that employs two of her friends, despite the business having no track record to point to.

She also broke up a roughly $15 million technology project into smaller contracts to ensure no-bid work went to Tridec, according to the inspector general’s report. The investigation was made public last week after an open records request by The Times

Ms. Cooper has sharply disputed the VA inspector general findings, saying through a lawyer that she always followed the law and recused herself from dealing with Tridec. The lawyer also said the inspector general’s report omitted key details.

“The report is biased, misleading and completely disregards a number of critical facts, including that Ms. Cooper recused herself from the VOA contracting process,” her lawyer David Schertler said in a statement.

The VA and its inspector general now face questions over whether they warned the Treasury Department of the investigation before that department hired Ms. Cooper.

The VA’s Office of Inspector General said through a spokeswoman last week that it was a question for the VA. In turn, the VA issued its own statement saying it didn’t act because the inspector general didn’t recommend it do so.

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