Treasury ponders opening TDA program to other agencies

The Treasury Department may join the growing list of agencies that have opened their technology contracts to the rest of the government if it decides to expand access to three office-automation contracts early next year.

The Internal Revenue Service which runs the Treasury Department Acquisition program may yet decide not to hang out its shingle. But some agency officials think entering the market would drive down prices and improve service for internal Treasury customers by allowing vendors to compete for more sales.

TDA includes three contracts held by Government Technology Services Inc. BTG Inc. and Win Laboratories. All three vendors offer products - mainly Pentium PCs and file servers notebooks peripherals and commercial office-automation software - that can be purchased in numerous configurations on a host of other federal contracts and through the General Services Administration multiple-award schedule.

"In the private sector there are a lot of opportunities and a lot of options " said John Ely director of the IRS' Office of Information Systems Acquisition. "Why not open all those things up?"

TDA Catching On

Treasury users are not required to buy from any of the two-year TDA contracts and the IRS has not yet collected data to determine which purchasing vehicles customers prefer. But with 12 to 18 months left to go on the contracts Ely thinks the program "is catching on."

TDA vendors said they welcomed the prospect of being able to sell their products governmentwide. "What we've seen is that contracts which are easy to use and competitively priced get business " said Scott Reynolds director of program development with BTG which holds three governmentwide contracts and a GSA schedule. "Ultimately it comes down to who does the best job for the customer."

Mark Magnussen vice president of business development with Win Labs said the trend toward multiple awards already has resulted in vendors competing harder. "It's a changed game " he said. "That doesn't worry us."

GTSI executives could not be reached for comment.

The governmentwide acquisition trend raises some questions nonetheless. The IRS originally had wanted to open the TDA contracts next month but put off its decision in part because officials needed to study how such a move would affect contracting officers' workloads Ely said. "We don't want to sacrifice the service we are giving to our own immediate family " he explained.

Vendors Feel Their Way

Meanwhile the vendors are trying to understand the dynamics of the new marketplace and their place in it. Asked how his company will respond to the fact that in some cases it will be competing against itself for business BTG's Reynolds said "The answer to that question remains to be seen."

Win Labs' Magnussen wondered if the proliferation of governmentwide contracts could bring trouble down the line for small vendors.

"I do see a potential problem if we ever get into...a death spiral where agencies are looking for the lowest prices governmentwide " he said. "That will essentially mean that only a few companies will win all the business [and that] favors the large companies over the small."

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