BPAs blitz to top of the charts (Part 1)

The Defense Department which has been a leading advocate for large indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity procurements now appears ready to abandon the "one-size-fits-all" approach in favor of smaller more flexible blanket purchase agreements based on the General Services Administration's multiple-award schedule.

In the latest development the Air Force's Standard Systems Group - the IDIQ pioneer - tentatively plans to use BPAs as its primary source for computer products potentially ending its run of Desktop series of PC contracts of which Desktop V is the latest.

Col. Delbert Atkinson SSG's vice director said "The question of the hour is whether or not there will be a Desktop VI." SSG plans to ask its servicewide customer base to try to help answer that question during this week's Air Force Information Technology Conference in Montgomery Ala.

But based on feedback SSG has already received Atkinson believes the answer will be that SSG should go the BPA route for PC purchases reserving IDIQs "as a mechanism to provide services." The Air Force Electronics Systems Command Hanscom Air Force Base Mass. has bold plans to run a variety of BPAs for a wide range of computer hardware software and services and Atkinson indicated SSG will run Air Force-wide BPAs as part of this effort.

Additionally the Army which had been widely perceived as the last of the services to experiment with IDIQs appears to be taking a similar stance.

Kevin Carroll director of the Army's Communication-Electronics Command Acquisition Center-Washington (CAC-W) said that for the foreseeable future the Army "mainly" plans to use BPAs as its acquisition vehicle of choice for PCs laptops as well as "the next big project out the door " the Small Multiuser Computer-III networking acquisition.

CAC-W will use BPAs because "they are faster cheaper and you have less of a chance of a protest. You also increase your chances of success because you will be able to guarantee Grade `A' companies and products" to the users Carroll said.

The Navy blazed the trail last year when it chose to award multiple BPAs rather than compete its Tactical Advanced Computer (TAC)-4 program and has since awarded BPAs to cover a wide variety of product and service buys.

Picking Up Speed

The concept picked up momentum in March when Eleanor Spector director of procurement in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Technology sent out a memo identifying GSA's schedule as DOD's "preferred source of supply" and encouraged the services to take advantage of such options as BPAs.

The Navy is still far out in front of the other services. Several months ago the Navy Federal Industrial Supply Center in Philadelphia awarded a handful of BPAs for PC desktops laptops and servers in support of its Information Technology for the 21st Century program which will create a ship-to-shore computing infrastructure based largely on PCs and other standard commercial technology.

The TAC program office which awarded the Navy's first BPAs "is very satisfied with the BPA [approach]" so far said Cmdr. Phil Graham a resource manager for the Naval Information Systems Management Center.The Navy does not rule out any single procurement option Graham said. "We want the contracting officers to feel free to consider all their options and to do a business case analysis of what makes the best sense and provides the best value for their customers." The service also is concerned about such issues as the legality of "incidental" expenses - minor components of a purchase not bought off the GSA schedule - and the impact on small business.

With such concerns in mind the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research Development and Acquisition is now considering putting policy in place on BPA contracting to guide Navy procurement shops through the process.

The other services - and the contracting community - echoed the Navy's concerns.

Despite SSG's tilt toward BPAs they should not be viewed as the ideal solution for every contract or command Atkinson said. Comparing the relative merits of IDIQs and BPAs Atkinson said "Whichever we choose there will be advantages and disadvantages we will have to weigh each on a case-by-case basis."

Carroll is concerned about the competitive nature of BPAs. There have been instances where agencies have awarded BPAs to every company that bids. But doing so means the bidders in such a large field of almost-sure winners "will only cut 1 percent off their GSA price " Carroll said. To drive a better bargain in the BPA arena Carroll believes agencies need to run the buys so "you have losers.... Then companies will offer you a better price such as 10 percent off their GSA schedule."

The contracting community while appreciating the streamlined procurement that BPAs make possible has concerns about the pitfalls of the new vehicles.

"There are major benefits that accrue to the government with a Desktop V IDIQ contract " said Tom Walters Desktop V program manager for Hughes Data Systems. While BPAs can provide a more "focused" procurement for a particular site or situation a servicewide IDIQ makes it easier for the Air Force to address such issues as computer compatibility and interoperability Walters said.

Hughes and other vendors also are concerned about the services taking a decentralized approach to procurement with different shops within the service setting up its own vehicles. "When you have a centralized selection strategy like the Air Force has at [SSG] the word gets out rapidly " said Brad Mack director of Defense Programs at Government Technology Services Inc. "If it is a decentralized strategy that deludes the value of a BPA " Mack said.

Bob Dornan a Federal Sources Inc. senior vice president who has tracked federal computer buys for more than a decade has not jumped on the BPA express. "I still consider BPAs an experiment " Dornan said and "it promises instant gratification. I have some real concerns that BPAs are not the way to go in a global strategic sense."

Patrick Gallagher a computer industry consultant who during his tenure at Zenith Data Systems Corp. helped that company win and run the Desktop II Desktop IV and Desktop V contracts said "Purchasing vehicles evolve over time and I think the BPA is the next vehicle." But Gallagher cautioned that agencies need to remember that "BPAs may be easy to put down on paper but they could prove hard to manage."

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