History repeats

Experience shows consolidating schedules could be difficult

A new General Services Administration initiative to consolidate 43 GSA schedules into either a single schedule or a handful of them sounds all too familiar to Hope Lane, director of GSA schedule services at Aronson and Co.

Lane said the plan resembles the corporate contracting efforts the agency began in 1999. The program, which evolved into consolidated contracting, allows companies with contracts on multiple schedules to consolidate them. Although the new initiative wouldn't be identical, it could suffer similar problems, Lane said.

"It has never worked," she said. "It is just racked with problems."

For example, the Special Item Numbers (SINs) on corporate contracts often include several items that are separate SINs on the individual schedules. When those numbers are reported through GSA Advantage, the agency's online commerce system, the consolidated SIN is separated into the original SINs, even if the company is not entitled to claim all of them, she said.

Neal Fox, assistant commissioner of the Office of Commercial Acquisition at GSA, said having one schedule would free GSA employees from deciding which schedule they should use to place a task order. A unified schedule would have multiple functional areas, so an employee would no longer risk using a schedule for purchases that are outside a contract's scope. "If Neal Fox thinks he has a problem with scope, he has no idea what kind of a problem he has," Lane said.

Scott Orbach, president of EZGSA, also said the plan reminded him of GSA's corporate contracting initiative and its problems.

"I wouldn't say there's no way to do it and make it effective, but GSA hasn't demonstrated so far that they can do it," Orbach said.

The concept of one schedule could solve some problems, said Jonathan Aronie, an attorney at Sheppard Mullin and a Federal Computer Week columnist.

"There are a lot of potential advantages," he said. "The divisions between different schedules frequently are amorphous at best. There is much overlap." Some hurdles could be difficult to clear,Aronie said, a view that Fox said he shares. Some regulations or requirements that are necessary for one industry make no sense when applied to another, for example.

Fox, who discussed the initiative earlier this month at the Coalition for Government Procurement's spring conference, said GSA employees are building a matrix of all schedule solicitations to identify similarities and differences. That matrix should be completed by the end of the month, he said, adding that GSA officials would then begin discussions with industry representatives. He emphasized that the idea is still in the conceptual stage.

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