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Dog Day Diversions

In the final weeks of summer, and within weeks of the midterm elections, we might be tempted to write-off procurement issues as “on the back-burner,” i.e.¸ not at the top of the list of issues to address relative to matters of government funding and campaigning.  That point may be so, but it does not diminish the importance of these issues or the need for their redress.  What appears below is a list of important issues that, for stakeholders in the procurement community, remain on the front burner.

E-commerce Portals – In July, GSA released, “Procurement Through Commercial E-Commerce Portals,” its testing and analysis of commercial online models.  GSA concluded that there is little difference “between commercial online business models in their ability to meet core program capabilities,” as all three of the e-commerce models it identified “meets or exceeds the foundational capability needs of the program, with many offering sophisticated features that may or may not add value to the user experience.”

GSA’s “testing” of the models, however, to a great extent, involved surveys, begging the question, when is a test a survey, or when is a survey a test.  The point here is not levity; there is a question whether GSA has an over-arching strategy for the full utilization of these solutions beyond simple purchases.  Defining that strategy could have implications for procurement streamlining and efficiency, but that definition cannot be made without hard data.

Loopholes Facilitating Cyber Risk – Earlier this summer, this blog addressed the use of the small business set-aside “non-manufacturer” rule (NMR) as risk-channel through which products representing a cyber threat could enter the government’s supply chain and networks.  When the SBA provides an NMR waiver for a set-aside procurement, a small business reseller/dealer is permitted to supply the product of any size business without regard to place of manufacture.  Because, under the FAR, the Buy American Act applies to set-asides, under a NMR waiver, a small business reseller/dealer can provide a product from China that otherwise, under a “full and open” procurement, would be barred by operation of the Trade Agreement Act.

Over the last several years, the government, rightly so, has increased its efforts to limit attacks from adversaries via channels provided by their products.  It is a mystery, then, why this gaping loophole in the system is permitted to exist.  To safeguard government systems and data, the loophole needs to be eliminated.

The Multiple Award Schedules (MAS) and Transactional Data Reporting (TDR) – TDR will enhance the government’s ability to make smart purchasing decisions through the sharing of information. The program has naturally progressed, beginning with the Discount Schedule and Marketing Data (DSMD) requirements that existed in the 1980s, followed by the introduction of the Commercial Sales Practices (CSP) and Price Reduction Clause (PRC) in the 1990’s, to TDR.  TDR  moves the MAS program away from outdated, burdensome, and anti-competitive pricing policies towards more market focused model.

As the TDR pilot evolved, the procurement community has come to understand that TDR is a best value management tool in the government’s procurement toolbox. TDR’s strength lies in its ability to track the market while reducing contract administration burdens for commercial firms, particularly small firms as well as enhancing competitive opportunities for contractors. In contrast, the PRC requires costly administrative oversight which significantly hinders MAS contractors’ ability to compete in the commercial marketplace. In September, look for a series of blogs focusing on TDR and its role in the Schedule program.

Customer Experiences and Equitable Price Adjustment – Administrator Carnahan has expressed her management focus on the customer experience, recognizing that, “[c]reating user-friendly and accessible government services is essential to building trust in government and delivering the resources and benefits the American people need, when they need them.”  Coalition members share this view, recognizing that, in their businesses, a positive customer experience is fundamental to their success in the commercial market.

As the largest commercial item contracting program in government, the Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) Program provides a marketplace where customer agencies and industry partners come together to meet mission requirements.  The health of the MAS program is reflected in customer experience, both for agencies and industry partners.  Based on the experience of Coalition members, that health is not good.  Specifically, they are encountering bottlenecks and delays (up to a year)  in contract administration functions across the program, including ongoing challenges regarding inflation and the processing of Economic Price Adjustments (EPAs), putting significant pressure on the industrial base, especially small businesses, resulting in thousands of unfilled orders and significant economic loss.  GSA needs to expedite redress of these bottlenecks and the processing of EPAs to maintain the stability and vitality of its industrial base.

The foregoing is but a sampling of important issues facing stakeholders in the procurement community.  As we watch children return to school and await the change of seasons, we would do well to reflect on these issues and develop constructive ways to address them quickly.

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