The latest delay in awarding the Air Force's massive Desktop V contract drove home the fact that streamlined, fast-track procurements still have a long way to go.

Delays in large requirements purchases are not specific to the Air Force or the Desktop program. IWS/LAN, the Social Security Administration's $1.1 billion networked computer buy, also has been beset by scheduling problems.

Government purchasers have the most to lose. As award dates slip into the late spring, buyers will have less time to assess available products before orders are placed in the busy government buying season. Any protest will only exacerbate the problem.

Given recent developments, we have to ask if the heady days of large requirements contracts have come to an end. Other vehicles, including GSA's schedule program and various government- wide acquisition contracts, often provide agencies with less expensive, faster alternatives to major agency-specific buys. The Federal Aviation Administration recently canceled the follow-on to its office automation contract in favor of other governmentwide vehicles and its own, more modest procurements.

The Air Force should be congratulated for its pioneering role in streamlined procurement. But if the government expects large contracts like the Desktop buys to work, it needs to figure out a better way to keep programs on schedule and get technology into users' hands faster.

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