Agencies reap benefits of `new' GSA sked program

"N avy awards BPAs for shipboard tech " "Army opts for BPAs to buy software peripherals chips " "Treasury picks 7 for database net BPAs." These headlines or ones very much like them appear weekly in IFederal Computer Week/I

Across the board federal buyers are discovering that purchasing from the General Services Administration's multiple-award schedule (MAS) contracts can save them significant time and money over traditional procurement means. Schedule contracts and blanket purchase agreements have become the most popular way for agencies to quickly and efficiently procure the goods and services they need to meet their mission objectives.

It is not surprising therefore that some supporters of the "old days" of process-oriented and protest-ridden information technology procurements are crying foul. They suggest that reliance on schedule contracts could return the federal government to the days of substantial fraud waste and abuse. They call for a series of new regulations - even before the full benefits of recent procurement-streamlining legislation are realized. Listening to these purveyors of doom is reminiscent of the amazement expressed at new things by Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz - "Lions and tigers and bears oh my!"

The realities of GSA's schedule program are different thankfully from such forecasts. In fact the MAS program of today embodies many of the characteristics of recently implemented procurement-streamlining legislation as well as the recommendations of the National Performance Review (NPR). As federal buyers attempt to make their way in this new world of government procurement it is important for them to have the flexibility the schedules program provides.

And it is just as important to have all the information about the programs from which government buyers can purchase and the benefits that can accrue to their programs and their agencies.

A quick review of the facts of the "new" MAS program should dispel the recently swirling myths and provide federal buyers with an accurate picture of a truly beneficial government procurement vehicle.

* MAS contracts are competitively awarded.

First MAS contracts meet established regulatory competition standards and market definitions of competition. Purchasing from schedule contracts meets the competition standards set forth in the Competition in Contracting Act and GSA's negotiation procedures ensure that contractors compete against themselves and often offerors of the same or similar items. GSA also ensures competition on the schedules program by awarding contracts for the same or similar items to several contractors. Contractors must remain price competitive on a daily basis in order to obtain business.

* Prices on multiple-award schedules are competitive.

Companies submitting an offer to obtain a GSA schedule contract are required to submit information on their commercial-discounting practices or other discounting information. GSA uses this information to seek discounts equal to or better than the offeror's most favored customer. As a result of these strenuous negotiations the prices awarded on GSA schedule contracts are competitive with those found on almost any federal procurement vehicle. GSA also ensures that the contractors they award to are responsible responsive companies that perform the work agreed to under the schedule contract.

* Using schedule contracts streamlines government and is in concert with the objectives of the NPR.

The Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act the Clinger-Cohen Act and the vice president's NPR initiative have all focused major attention on streamlining the way the government buys goods and services. The theme of the NPR is "Creating a Government that Works Better and Costs Less." By making purchases through GSA schedule contracts agencies are doing just that.

Many agencies have found that they can trim the traditional procurement cycle by as much as 75 percent by using the schedules program. The bottom line for the agency is that it can spend more time on its core missions and less on the overhead and operations formerly associated with procurement.

* GSA schedule contracts are good for small business.

Nearly two-thirds of GSA schedule contractors are small businesses. They compete successfully every day against large and medium-sized companies.

Additionally every large business that is awarded a schedule contract with an estimated value of $500 000 or more must have a small-business subcontracting plan. Recently GSA has been giving increased scrutiny to these plans to raise small and disadvantaged business subcontracting goals to ensure that small businesses get their fair share of procurement dollars.

Competition good prices streamlined procurement and the retention of socioeconomic goals - GSA's MAS program has it all. At a time when the federal government is trying to do more with less it is little wonder that agencies are increasingly turning to this program as a major procurement source.

Those who long for a return to the "old days" of process-oriented contracting must realize that the government that maintained that system no longer exists or can even afford to exist. Streamlined procurement methods such as the MAS program are key to the future success of government. It is time to get on board the train to the future and realize the outstanding benefits of this program.

-- Caggiano is president of the Coalition for Government Procurement a multi-industry trade association of 300 companies selling goods and services to the federal government.

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