SmartBuy moves closer to a mandated program

Acquisition regulators might soon tell agencies they must use the governmentwide licensing program.

Two acquisition councils are close to approving a draft proposal that would add the SmartBuy program to federal regulations, an official said today.

Ernest Woodson, a procurement analyst at the General Services Administration’s Office of Governmentwide Policy, said the Defense Acquisition Regulatory Council approved a draft rule last week that would amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) to include SmartBuy. On Nov. 13, the council sent its version to the Civilian Agency Acquisition Council for further review.

“The councils are pretty much agreed, and we’re going to proceed,” Woodson said, adding that he expects changes to the proposed language. He said a final rule would likely come in February or March.

SmartBuy is a governmentwide program aimed at getting lower prices on software licenses and related services through bulk buying. The rule would make SmartBuy the mandated source of supply for agencies.

According to the draft proposal, agencies would be required to use the governmentwide enterprise software-licensing program or justify why they plan to use another contract for a purchase. Woodson said the program would save agencies money and make buying software easier by offering a range of agreements with companies.

“For the government to benefit, it is necessary for contracting officers to use these SmartBuy agreements,” the draft proposal states.

The five-year-old SmartBuy program has 29 agreements with 23 companies for software and services. Through those agreements, agencies saved $165.8 million in fiscal 2008, according to GSA, which hosts SmartBuy.

Agencies ordering through a SmartBuy agreement can force prices lower because of the government’s purchasing volume. In addition to the savings, the agreement would help standardize the products that agencies use, according to the draft language.

Under the rules, agencies would be required to check SmartBuy to see if any agreements match their needs. If an agency decides to use another contract, it would have to justify why it isn’t using SmartBuy and receive approval before proceeding, according to the draft. Contracting officers would have to tell their senior procurement executive and chief information officer why the SmartBuy agreements won’t work for a specific purchase. GSA officials would also receive the justification and use it to improve the agreements.

Officials at the Office of Management and Budget didn’t comment on the proposed rule because it is still under review.

As they considered the SmartBuy proposal, acquisition regulators debated whether it is a mandatory program, Woodson said. Most of the SmartBuy agreements are through GSA’s Multiple Award Schedules program, and agencies are not required to use those contracts.

“We’re dealing with that, and that’s going to be resolved in the rule,” Woodson said. “It won’t be a problem, believe me.”

The councils have been considering adding SmartBuy to FAR since 2005, making it one of their oldest proposals. Woodson said other regulations — some with pressure from Congress and others with tight deadlines — have kept the SmartBuy effort from progressing.

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