Editorial: Fixing the schedules

Like them or not, GSA's schedule contracts have been remarkably successful, accounting for about $36 billion in annual sales.

It is something of a pastime to grouse about the General Services Administration’s schedule contracts. Like or dislike them, one thing is undeniable: The program has been remarkably successful, accounting for about $36 billion in annual sales.

The complaining has grown to a fever pitch in recent weeks, spurred by the recent departure of three vendors — Sun Microsystems, EMC and Canon — and there are rumors that other companies are considering pulling out.

But even amid the gloomy talk about the future of the schedule contracts, GSA officials are quick to note that sales are growing.

Although the schedule contracts are controversial, we believe they represent a significant part of the government procurement market. They make the market accessible to companies that offer a wide range of products and services that agencies otherwise might not have access to. The schedules have helped create a more competitive market.

We don’t believe the sky is falling for the GSA schedule program, although there are important pricing issues that must be addressed. Under the rules of the schedule contracts, vendors must offer agencies their most favored customer pricing. That has not changed. However, the process for determining and ensuring that vendors are offering that pricing has changed dramatically, with the GSA inspector general becoming more aggressive with vendors and contracting officers to ensure the best pricing.

One explanation for that behavior is the broken relationship between GSA Administrator Lurita Doan and GSA IG Brian Miller. Regardless of who is wrong or right, their feud is affecting agencies’ ability to accomplish their missions. We hope that wiser heads will prevail and Doan and Miller will work out their differences.

Unfortunately, with the way the schedule process has worked recently, GSA is chasing away vendors and agencies that would use the schedule contracts. It is shrinking the government market and narrowing options for agencies.

The result will be higher prices and lower value.

The schedule contracts might not be perfect, but they are a powerful way of creating a broader, more accessible government market.  

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