A Spike in COVID-19 Contract Spending at Commerce

Published: May 27, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisCENSUSDOCCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicForecasts and SpendingSpending Trends

A dramatic increase in Commerce COVID-19 contract spending last week may foreshadow the type of spending expected as federal departments begin planning to reopen their offices.

Key Takeaways:

  • Commerce reported $51.2M in COVD-19 spending the week of May 17, over 50% of the $99M spent by the agency in the pandemic thus far.
  • Census represents 99% of the spending reported by Commerce in the week of May 17, investing in advertising services and disinfectant supplies. The spike in spending by Census correlates with announcements to resume in-field operations for the 2020 Census at some locations.
  • Contractors can expect similar increases in spending by Census as more field offices reopen. This pattern of spending may foreshadow the reopening of other federal offices as well.

Commerce ranks 8th highest in reported COVID-19 spending, which totals more than $26B (as of 5/26) across the federal government. Earlier spending by Commerce revealed investments in IT for mobile devices at Census, professional services to accommodate changes made by COVID including lodging for NOAA crewmembers during stand-downs, and professional services at Census for two new surveys related to the pandemic.

While most agencies saw their COVID spending peak in the late-March to April 2020 period, Commerce’s spending sings a different tune. GovWin’s COVID Response Analytics Tool revealed some interesting spending at Commerce – a spike the week of May 17 – totaling $51.2M – more than all the Commerce COVID spending done before that, combined.  

Source: Deltek, FPDS

Digging into the data further, the Bureau of Census represents 99% of the COVID spending reported by Commerce in the week of May 17. Specifically, the largest task orders total approximately $36.3M under the 2020 Census’ Integrated Communication Contract (ICC) for 32 additional media efforts related to COVID-19. Additional task order reported by Census that week include:

  • $8.5M for hand sanitizers
  • $3.1M for disinfectant wipes
  • $2.1M for nitrile disposable gloves
  • $684K for laptops

The spending by the bureau correlates to a pair of announcements to reopen some census offices and resume in-field survey operations. Census will reopen offices in American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands to prepare for operations in the Island Areas of the decennial count. Moreover, the bureau announced the opening of census offices in the following states to begin a phased restart of operations: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. A partial number of census offices in the following states will begin a phased restart of in-field operations as well:

  • California (13/30)
  • Maryland (1/4)
  • Michigan (2/5)
  • Texas (10/26)
  • Virginia (2/6)

Presumably, the explosive spending in advertising services and disinfectant supplies from last week directly relates to the reopening of some census field offices. The Census Bureau suspended all nationwide in-field operations in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The bureau originally estimated operations would resume on June 1, seeking a 120-day extension to deliver final counts. Based on the relationship of reopening offices and increased spending at Census, contractors can assume that spending on advertising/media efforts and disinfectant supplies will continue as census field offices continue to reopen. Taking it another step further, the contracting community will likely see an uptick in spending for disinfectant/personnel protection supplies and other operational-related investments as other federal departments also prepare to reopen their offices.

Out of curiosity, I dug into some of the other spending Commerce has done in May. Outside of maintenance and construction projects throughout NOAA, PPE, and additional custodial services throughout the department, one other investment caught my eye – a $523K task order out of the Office of the Secretary for CARES Act management. Commerce received an additional $1.9B from the CARES Act, primarily to fund state and local economic programs as well as small business entities. Commerce likely attained additional management support to help distribute the funds. This task order aligns with some of the contractor addressability predictions the GovWin team made in early April upon passage of the CARES Act. It is always nice to see a prediction come true!