While we are certainly aware of the burdens placed on contracting officers and agencies by full and open competition in the procurement phase of an acquisition, there can be little argument that multiple awards bring the government the best prices and the latest technology.
One glimpse into the downside of a sole-source procurement was provided in documents filed by the Defense Information Systems Agency in its protest battle with AT&T over the Defense Commercial Telecommunications Network (DCTN). Among the problems DISA cited were high prices, sluggish technological innovations and difficulty pinpointing responsibility for delays and interruptions in service.
To get AT&T to drop prices on DCTN, DISA had to agree to use DCTN as its main network for voice, data and video. DISA now believes that by locking itself into DCTN and a sole provider, it has been deprived of the prompt infusion of new technology. "As the lone contractor, AT&T has had no incentive to provide such new technology unless it conforms to its overall network—and then at higher, nonmarket prices," the filing said.
It is for these reasons that DISA has chosen a multiple-contractor approach for the follow-on to DCTN. The evidence from DCTN supports experiences elsewhere in the government that multiple awards foster competition throughout the life of a program and ensure an agency has access to new technology at market prices. As government moves to streamline the procurement process, agencies should be careful not to limit competition so much that they end up in the same situation that DISA now finds itself.