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Procurement of Food Aid Products

A recent GAO report on International Food Assistance (GAO-11-636) published in June 2011 outlined the procurement process for international food aid programs.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) in the Department of State and the U.S. Department of Agriculture share in the administration of all U.S. food aid programs. USAID’s Office of Food for Peace (FFP) is responsible for the administration of emergency and nonemergency food aid programs. USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) also administers two active food aid programs—Food for Progress and McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program— among others.

Within USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA), the Kansas City Commodity Office (KCCO) manages the product standards, purchases, and delivery of all food aid commodities to domestic transfer points.  FFP and the Foreign Agricultural Service direct KCCO to procure commodities for their implementing partners that are responsible for the distribution of food aid to intended recipients. KCCO procures a variety of commodities and products from several different vendors across the United States and enters into commodity contracts with vendors. When requested by KCCO contracting officers, USDA’s Farm Service Agency conducts quality assurance surveillance, or verification of the vendor’s quality control system’s effectiveness and ability to deliver products that meet contract requirements. One branch of USDA—the Federal Grain Inspection Service—conducts quality reviews and certification of food aid products.

KCCO primarily uses a type of procurement approach called “sealed bidding” to procure food aid commodities, an approach that was required by regulation (7 CFR 1496) until that regulation was eliminated in May 2009. The Federal Acquisition Regulation governing sealed bidding require selection of vendors based solely on price and price-related factors—not on technical factors such as a vendor’s prior performance or quality controls.

In May of 2009 KCCO determined that elements of the Total Quality Systems Audit program were not compliant with the Federal Acquisition Regulation, specifically its prequalification requirement. Certificates of analysis were not in violation of the Federal Acquisition Regulation, and continue to be used for certain commercial commodities.

Under a 2009 revision of regulations governing commodity acquisitions (48 CFR 470), KCCO can now utilize other procurement approaches, and has begun transitioning away from sealed bidding to a negotiated procurement approach that will enable KCCO to consider a variety of factors—other than just price—during procurement. For instance, new solicitation language states that technical evaluation factors, such as quality controls and past performance, are significantly more important than commodity price. KCCO published four draft requests for proposals in July 2010 and published answers to vendor questions about the requests for proposals in October 2010.  KCCO published its final requests for CSB and CSB+ in March 2011 and made its first contracts in May 2011.

USDA launched a new Web-Based Supply Chain Management System (WBSCM) on April 1, 2011 that integrates multiple existing data systems and tracks food aid commodities throughout the supply chain. With WBSCM, vendors and implementing partners will eventually be able to voluntarily log complaints, including quality problems. In addition, USAID is developing an information system called Quarterly Web Interfaced Commodity Reporting that enables NGOs to submit their damage and loss reports electronically, although there is currently no plan to make NGO usage of this system mandatory. USAID has also drafted standard operating procedures to resolve food quality complaints—also known as the feedback loop—including a complaint log designed as a reporting tool to document food quality complaints.

USAID has food aid stocks prepositioned to be in close proximity to regions where emergency food aid has traditionally been provided to shorten the length of time needed to respond to emergencies.  These locations are Jacintoport, Texas to respond to emergencies in the Caribbean and Central and South America; the ports of Durban, South Africa, Djibouti, Lome, Togo and Mombasa, Kenya for African response and Colombo, Sri Lanka for emergencies in Asia.

Last updated August 2011

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