Significant management changes are occurring across government that could affect federal acquisition in general and multiple award contracting specifically. Joe Jordan, previously Associate Administrator for Government Contracting and Business Development at the Small Business Administration will soon be formally sworn in as Administrator, Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP). Dan Tangerlini, previously Treasury’s Assistant Secretary for Management, Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Performance Officer is the acting administrator, GSA. Steve Kemp, Commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) is temporarily on medical leave. Mary Davie, the FAS Assistant Commissioner for Integrated Technology is acting in his place. So with these management changes combined with an election year what can we expect?
Decreasing budgets and new federal priorities, as well as new leadership make change a certainty; the acquisition community is feeling it already. There are significant federal register notices out affecting multiple award contracts including proposed rules regarding small business set-asides, GSA’s plan for closing certain Schedules to the receipt of new offers and government-wide strategic sourcing efforts. Recurring themes derive from these initiatives:
- The desire for government to lower its costs and drive down prices
- A need for data
- Increased monitoring and oversight
- Emphasis on small business utilization
So we expect change; what we strive for is change that makes the acquisition process better than it was before. One of our members recently shared with me that their corporate philosophy for continuous improvement is “half the bad, double the good.” So I pose the question with respect to the GSA Multiple Award Schedules Program how can government and industry half the bad and double the good.
In a time of significant change it is helpful to concentrate on core values. For GSA it’s important that changes maintain and enhance at least two core values.
1. GSA was established as a centralized acquisition arm of government. GSA must provide effective, efficient and flexible acquisition services so that customer agencies can focus on their missions.
2. Commercial item contracting should remain a robust tool for delivering a vast array of innovative services, products and solutions to federal agencies, with comparatively short lead times.
The GSA Schedules program has been central to delivering on these core values. Schedule contracts are in essence a shared servicesvehicle that agencies use to accomplish varying acquisition objectives. For example, most of the government’s current strategic sourcing initiatives are built upon Blanket Purchase Agreements against GSA Schedules. The vast majority of Schedule contractors are small; over 30% of these sales go to small business. Agencies that use these vehicles can achieve their acquisition and socio-economic objectives while avoiding the total cost of a full and open competition.
There are opportunities to half the bad and double the good in the GSA Schedules program with a few basic tactics. At a recent Coalition forum on multiple agency contracts, Bloomberg Federal reported that there were more than 1182 multiple agency contracts for the same or similar services and products available on GSA Schedules and GWACs. More than 600 of those contracts were created within the past five years. Each of these vehicles potentially raises the operating costs of government by not taking advantage of a centralized acquisition agency. We continue to hear from members about agencies building duplicative contract vehicles. The Coalition looks forward to working with Joe Jordan, Administrator, OFPP to reduce the number duplicative contracts. Yes, there will be resistance, but this is a great opportunity to realize the administration’s goal of reducing the operating cost of government.
Agencies will benefit by better leveraging the schedules program at the task order level. The GSA Schedule program is designed to establish a reasonable price at the contract level with further discounts available at the task order level. Simply asking for price reductions in an environment where the fundamentals of the acquisition (quantity, location, technical descriptions) are known will yield better pricing. A well-constructed set of requirements will yield even better pricing and achieve various non-pricing agency objectives. The number of federal buying officials is large and constantly moving. Continuous training and marketing of the GSA Schedules program to federal agencies is essential to assure that agencies get maximum advantage by using the program as intended. GSA Schedule contractors can help in this effort and even increase their value to potential customers by structuring pricelists and marketing materials to provide information on ordering procedures and best practices.
Finally, now is the time for GSA to address the mechanics of its contracting program. Government and industry need a clearly articulated pricing policy that reasonably addresses current market conditions, regulations that mandate competition at the task order level, and technology. Varying interpretation of the pricing policy and increasingly complex procedures are slowing the time from submittal of offers to availability of items on contract. GSA has an opportunity to address these issues as it rewrites the portion of its internal regulations governing GSA Schedule contracting. We hope the new leadership of GSA will make it a priority to both continuously improve and simplify contracting procedures. Let’s make this a mythbuster initiative to lower the total operating cost of government.
The Coalition is committed to being a constructive voice for industry in advocating for common sense acquisition change.