Of the $17.8 billion in Cares Act contractual spending through June 11, 53 percent was spent without competition, GAO has said, adding that “contracting during an emergency can present unique challenges as officials can face pressure to provide goods and services as quickly as possible.”
By agency, HHS had spent more than half of the total, $8.9 billion, followed by DoD, $3 billion and DHS, $1.7 billion, VA, $1.5 billion and the rest by 38 other departments and agencies. By category, medical and surgical equipment was by far the largest, above $6 billion, followed by hospital and surgical clothing, research, drugs and biologicals and laboratory equipment and supplies—but other spending went to everything from financial management support to purchase of fruits and vegetables.
Of noncompetitive contract obligations, more than two-thirds, or about $6.9 billion, were reported as using the “unusual and compelling urgency” exception to full and open competition, which GAO said “can be necessary in certain circumstances, but our prior work has noted that promoting competition—even in a limited form—increases the potential for quality goods and services at a lower price in urgent situations.”
It said that only 39 percent of spending for goods, although 61 percent of spending for services, was competitive. There also was a difference between obligations on newly awarded contracts vs. pre-existing contracts; only 34 percent of obligations toward the former, compared to about 72 percent toward the latter were competitive.
The top ten vendors, mostly in the electronics, biologics and pharmaceuticals fields, accounted for a third of the spending.