GSBCA looks to its ADR role

Aiming to play a continuing role in resolving disagreements between information technology vendors and federal users, the General Services Administration's Board of Contract Appeals plans to issue today a notice of its intent to offer alternative dispute-resolution (ADR) services.

Although Congress ruled that GSBCA will no longer serve as a venue for resolving protests of ADP contracts as of Aug. 8, the board hopes to serve as an informal forum to assist vendors and agencies in resolving their differences without the time and expense involved with filing a protest with the General Accounting Office or in federal court.

GSBCA Judge Robert Parker said the board has rewritten its rules of operation to handle ADR proceedings, as opposed to deciding protests. "If you want someone to help you resolve [disputes] informally, we'll help any agency in the government," Parker said last week at a conference sponsored by IDC Government. "We do know the law, and we are pretty good at predicting how things will come out in other forums."

Ronald Berger, associate general counsel at GAO, said his agency does not offer ADR services but is considering doing so. He said some agencies have already asked GAO to provide services similar to those GSBCA will propose.

Berger said agencies that go to GSBCA to resolve differences are taking a risk that the board will be able to correctly determine how a case would proceed at GAO. But he said he has no objection to agencies using the service "as long as they go into it with their eyes open."

GSBCA More Appealing?

Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc., said GSBCA could provide vendors with a way to avoid protesting at GAO, which he said has traditionally been hostile to vendors.

"I would think that the vendor community - if they can get agencies to go along with it - might use this forum as a quicker, less onerous way of resolving differences," he said. "I don't know how quickly GAO could or would react [to a protest], and I would think GSBCA would try to stimulate business their way and do a better job. It would be nice to still have that competitive spirit to push GAO in the right direction."

Despite administration support of ADR, Dornan said vendors may have a tough time convincing agencies to abandon GAO for GSBCA, given GAO's track record for denying protests.

Parker said vendors and agencies wishing to use GSBCA to resolve disputes will be able to contact the board directly. He said GSBCA will initially offer the service free of charge but may impose fees in the future.

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