Rapid-fire criticism hits upcoming FAST launch

As the General Services Administration last week announced a new acquisition program expected to produce $1 billion a year in sales, a group of small businesses and their congressional supporters attacked the agency for its decision to terminate the regional program that served as the model for the new series of contracts.

GSA's Federal Acquisition Services for Technology (FAST) program will channel information technology requirements from any federal agency to GSA multiple-award schedule (MAS) holders, vendors with governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) and a cadre of small, disadvantaged vendors who will receive contracts under the new program.

By the end of this month, GSA expects to issue a solicitation on the Internet to 8(a) vendors who are interested in submitting proposals for the new program. GSA officials said hundreds of vendors will receive five-year contracts to participate in the program.

Although FAST procurement personnel will try to meet all requirements submitted to them through schedules or GWACs, at least 65 percent of FAST requirements will be met through 8(a) firms, said Francis Jones, senior manager of business and customer relations at GSA's Information Technology Service. In cases where MAS vendors can meet agencies' requirements, FAST personnel will negotiate for an even better price than that published in the schedule.

In Defense of New System

Jim Arrington, GSA's deputy commissioner for information technology acquisition, said most FAST acquisitions will require more of an integrated solution than is generally offered through schedules or GWACs.

"Most of our clients want a one-stop method of acquiring hardware, software that is loaded and tested, and equipment integrated into their existing operations," he said. "Under multiple-award or vendor-

specific contracts, you can't buy an IBM PC along with a database management system from Bohdan and then tell the vendor you want it set on a desk, turned on and tested. But that approach is conducive to our 8(a)s."

Arrington said he believes agencies will use the program, regardless of surcharges, to avoid using their own contracting resources. "To use MAS, an agency must have sufficient contracting staff of its own," he said. "Under FAST, we will use GSA's contracting resources."

FAST is based on a program run out of GSA's Kansas City regional offices that was terminated by officials from GSA's Information Technology Service. The FAST announcement persuaded many of the vendors involved in the Kansas City program to enlist the aid of Congress to demand a continuation of the aborted program.

Strength in Numbers

At least eight vendors have banded together to lobby Congress and possibly file suit against GSA for what they call an "arbitrary" decision to terminate the Kansas City program without notifying vendors ahead of time.

Representatives from those companies said they sank huge investments into their operations to ensure that they could meet the demands of the program, only to have GSA shut it down to start FAST as well as a similar program with Army contracting officers at Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

Rep. Albert Wynn (D-Md.) met late last month with Arrington, GSA administrator David Barram and ITS commissioner Joe Thompson to discuss his concerns for the plight of the Kansas City vendors.

Arrington said the program was canceled because the Kansas City regional office did not have the resources to handle the deluge of orders that came in and that orders were sometimes lost. He added that the program awarded basic ordering agreements to vendors noncompetitively and arbitrarily.

Arrington said every FAST order will be competed among all the contractors in each region. Vendors will not be limited as to the amount of business they can achieve through the FAST program, he said.

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