The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently released a report recommending several changes to the Department of Defense’s (DoD) deployable biometrics programs. Deployable biometric capabilities like fingerprint scanners, voice recognition hardware, and iris scanning devices are used as intelligence collection platforms by the DoD. According to the report, these programs are responsible for DoD capturing or killing 1,700 individuals and preventing 92,000 more from accessing DoD bases over the past decade.
While the GAO acknowledged several successful components of DoD’s biometric capabilities, it also made six recommendations to enhance biometric strategic planning. Further, GAO warned that DoD “may have missed an opportunity to leverage existing, viable, and less costly alternatives.”
A critical recommendation was GAO’s final one: DoD should stop determining which contract support to use based on the lowest price. Too often, DoD relies on lowest cost, technically-acceptable solicitations (i.e. choosing the lowest priced bid by a contractor that meets the minimum requirements.) According to the report, this absolute preference for low bidding has resulted in staffing shortages in contractor provided services. While the GAO still supports use of the lowest price solicitation structure for low skilled services, GAO expressed concern of its usefulness for highly technical/skilled tasks, such as information technology security and latent fingerprint examination. GAO recommends using tradeoff selection criteria in determining contract support; this approach could enhance the quality of contract offers and improve contractor hiring and retention through better compensation.
The advantages of using a best value solicitation for these more advanced DoD services are clear. The Department would have greater discretion to determine if a price discount is worth a reduction in quality, and what effect that sacrifice could have on the end goal – for example, quickly and properly processing a potentially hostile individual’s DNA. With the passing of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, DOD will almost certainly follow GAO’s recommendation for a solicitation method. The Act directs the DoD to avoid using lowest price solicitations for information technology contracts, to the maximum extent practicable. (Pub. L. No. 114-328, div. A, title VIII, subtitle C, § 813(c) (Dec. 23, 2016)). Further, DoD reviewed a draft of the GAO report, and concurred with all six recommendations. DoD also cited actions it plans to take to address the recommendations. GAO believes that if DoD completes these actions, it will adequately address the concerns outlined.
About the Author:
Tyler Freiberger is an associate attorney at Centre Law & Consulting primarily focusing on employment law and litigation. He has successfully litigated employment issues before the EEOC, MSPB, local counties human rights commissions, the United States D.C. District Court, Maryland District Court, and the Eastern District of Virginia.