The IG’s report is the second in recent months to accuse a top-ranking VA acquisitions official of improperly steering contracts. In September, the IG said that another VA contracting officer sought to improperly benefit Vienna-based FedBid. She resigned after the report became public.
In the more recent report, which was previously reported by the Washington Times, the Inspector General said it followed up on “multiple complaints” to its hotline regarding Cooper and another top VA procurement official, Wendy McCutcheon.
The report said investigators were able to substantiate that Cooper had a “personal relationship” with a part-owner or Tridec and the son of another owner. It did not characterize the nature of the relationships. It also said that Cooper and McCutcheon “engaged in a lack of candor” when interviewed by investigators.
The work could have been done by many other firms, the IG said, but Cooper “chose to funnel business to a friend, ignoring her duties to promote competition.”
Cooper’s attorney, David Schertler, said that she “strongly disagrees with the findings” of the report, which he said “is biased, misleading and completely disregards a number of critical facts.”
Cooper recused herself once the part-owner joined the company, he said, and “complied with all applicable laws.”
McCutcheon did not return calls for comment. Robert S. Fritschie, president of Tridec, said his company did nothing wrong and was awarded the contract because of its expertise in the area.
“Not only did we get the work because we were capable of doing it, but we were recognized for doing it exceptionally,” he said.
In a statement Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said that the “report detailing how two senior VA acquisition officials improperly steered contracts to their friends and then lied to IG officials in an attempt to cover it up is deeply troubling.”
He said it was also disappointing that “one of the officials referenced in the report appears to have retired with full benefits, while another has managed to secure a high-level position with the Treasury Department.”
Miller said the Treasury IG “assured us they will investigate the circumstances surrounding the department’s hiring of Iris Cooper.”
The Treasury Department was “not aware” of the allegations detailed in the IG report when Cooper was hired, said spokesman Adam Hodge. And he said that Treasury has not awarded any contracts to Tridec since she was hired.
Cooper was able to award the company sole source awards because she broke the work into smaller contracts, all below the $5 million threshold that would have required them to be competed, investigators said. The lack of competition was likely the only way the company could have won, the IG said.
“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 competed,” the report said.
Fritschie, the company president, disputed that conclusion, saying “we would have had a brilliant shot at it.”