Part 15 rewrite opens bid pool

Federal procurement policy-makers have suggested changing a proposed overhaul of the rules governing how agencies negotiate large contracts in the hope that the new language will satisfy critics who said the original plan made the acquisition system less fair.

A new version of a proposed rewrite to Part 15 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation made public Friday makes concessions to vendors and legal experts who objected to key provisions of the first plan. "We tried to be responsive to some of the criticisms even in cases where we were not persuaded on the merits " said Steven Kelman administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. "It's a gesture of respect for sincere criticism even if we don't agree and a gesture from our end toward what we see as important: as wide as possible a consensus."

Eliminating Inefficient Practices

Revisions to Part 15 which is used for major information technology acquisitions are intended to eliminate inefficient contracting practices and improve the exchange of information between agencies and vendors. A top procurement policy goal of the Clinton administration the rewrite has broad support for its aims but disputes over the details threatened to derail the proposal.

Most significantly the FAR Council wrote new language designed to make it clear that agencies must consider all offers they receive before determining how many proposals to include in the competitive range for a procurement. Many vendors particularly small businesses had complained that the rule as originally written would lead contracting officers to exclude bidders with whose work they were not familiar.

"It sounds to me like they considered the comments and tried to address them " said Alex Tomaszczuk a lawyer with Shaw Pittman Potts & Trowbridge and the chairman of the Federal Bar Association's Government Contracts Section. He had not yet read the proposed rule but said the changes described to him "sound basically to me like positive steps."

Olga Grkavac senior vice president of the Information Technology Association of America's Systems Integration Division agreed. "Clearly we ought to study it but it looks like some of the changes are positive " she said. Other revisions to the proposed rule include:

"Stricter definition of what types of communications with bidders are appropriate and when a description for the first time in the FAR of the role price should play in best-value decisions new language that gives bidders the right and opportunity to correct past-performance information they consider to be negative and lets new firms substitute the past-performance records of key employees in earlier jobs if they don't have a corporate track record clarification of the role oral proposals play in a procurement and provisions that give bidders who are not finalists in an acquisition more opportunity to be debriefed before an award is made."

Kelman said he hopes the rule will be made final by September. Some technical revisions to Part 15 that were not published previously have been added to the proposed rule and may take longer to complete he said. The complete proposed rule is expected to be published in the Federal Register Wednesday.

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