Final revision to streamline, open up communications

A year after it was first proposed federal policy-makers have issued their final revisions to Part 15 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation the rules that govern large negotiated procurements.

The new regulations which become mandatory on Jan. 1 are designed to encourage more open communications between vendors and their customers streamline agencies' evaluation of bidders and show buyers and sellers how to use new acquisition techniques such as oral presentations and past-performance ratings. Regulators made several changes to earlier proposals that aim to accommodate small firms' concerns that the revisions would hurt their ability to compete.

In some ways the changes to FAR 15 are less significant than they were a year ago said Alex Tomaszczuk a procurement lawyer with Shaw Pittman Potts & Trowbridge McLean Va. "There are more items and services now that are being procured off GSA schedule contracts and off [governmentwide contracts] " he said. "There are fewer large procurements that are going to be governed by FAR 15 than [there were] a year ago."

Nevertheless said Steven Kelman who shepherded the revisions before stepping down last month as head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy "a lot of major systems development" will still be done using the rule and agencies will use it to award prime contracts in multiple-award procurements.

Changes made in the final rule include:

* Allowing contracting officers to limit the final competitive range in a procurement to the "most highly rated" proposals but eliminating language from an earlier version that would let agencies set a target for the number of proposals that would be in that range

* Requiring that vendors be allowed to explain negative past-performance ratings before contracting officers can eliminate them from competition

* Describing different ways contracting officers who ask for oral presentations can be briefed by vendors such as teleconferencing that would reduce bidding costs for small companies.

Trade associations and lawyers representing small businesses criticized the original proposal for favoring larger well-known firms. Kelman said some changes in the final rule were made to dispel this perception even though policy-makers did not agree they were necessary.

"I think they've done a reasonable job of accommodating the public comments " Tomaszczuk said. "The rewrite suggests to me that there will be a premium on doing a good job in your initial proposal...the competitive ranges are just going to be smaller and the government will be more aggressive about narrowing the competitive range and shortening award [time]."


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