The numbers game

The multiple-award schedules program has jumped off to a fast start in the first full fiscal year after government buying rules were reformed. Sales are going gangbusters in fact Federal Supply Service executives say the schedule program will hit $3 billion by year-end. But a closer examination of the figures raises a lot of questions about the numbers and how they are collected [FCW May 12].

Counting has never been the General Services Administration's strong suit. For years the Federal Procurement Data Center's figures of computers installed in the government were a laughing stock. GSA has always depended on others - agencies or vendors - to supply the figures and then it compiles and publishes them. In GSA's favor it was a classic situation of garbage in garbage out. GSA did not have access or resources to do its own tabulation. In fact a whole cottage industry sprang up to compile better numbers than the government's.

FSS uses the same model for ADP schedules. Vendors tell FSS how much they have sold and send a check for 1 percent of the sales. However a few calls to vendors asking them to confirm sales figures reveals that the numbers are filled with errors. These are not small errors but multimillion-dollar mistakes. If GSA does not know how much was sold how can it know how much it should be paid? And how can policy-makers and industry judge the success of this new environment?

We think FSS should establish random auditing to test vendors' sales figures. Ultimately the accountability for this program must rest with the government.

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