Road to FY '98 paved with progress

As vendors collect last-minute orders from agencies and fiscal 1997 draws to a close it is hard to miss how much things have changed in the last year.

In truth this fiscal year ends very much like it began: with the award of contract buying vehicles to many companies. The National Institutes of Health this month chose 45 companies to compete for business under the Electronic Computer Store II contract which is a governmentwide contract for a wide range of hardware and software. The General Services Administration awarded the first of up to 100 schedule contracts for management and consulting services. The year began with NASA giving nine companies the right to sell workstations and related products under its Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement II and the Navy awarding four blanket purchase agreements for desktop PCs and servers.

The transformation of the government's purchasing vehicles and buying patterns is obvious. Vendors hoping to do business with the government must have all the sales weapons in their arsenals: schedule contracts government IDIQs and BPAs. Some observers believe the sheer number of options available to the government purchaser and the time it takes to "shop" for the best deal may delay some purchases. Others say the costs of collecting all the needed vehicles is driving up the vendors' costs needlessly. Still others suggest the GSA schedule shop which is the first stop for many companies is so inundated with requests and proposals that the approval process has slowed to a crawl.

In times of change successful buyers and sellers are those who learn to take advantage of the changes. A controversial but dramatic example is the Agriculture Department's win of a $250 million Federal Aviation Administration data processing services contract. Another is the Department of Veterans Affairs' decision to award governmentwide BPAs with the specific purpose of earning money on surcharges.

In the year ahead the challenge for all involved in procurement will be to build on this year's accomplishments and not let any excesses or bumps in the road derail the progress.

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