Panel rejects vendors' requests for guidance

A Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) committee overseeing technology has rejected a request by industry vendors to change the standard contract language defining Year 2000 compliance, despite complaints of unfair or inconsistent interpretations by agencies.

The language, incorporated in the FAR last August, requires agencies to ensure that all hardware or software products they buy can accurately process dates occurring after 1999, and it requires contractors to upgrade or replace any products found to be noncompliant after the purchase.

The government created the language for agencies to include in information technology solicitations and contracts.

The FAR Joint Information Technology Committee, which guides the FAR Council on IT policy, considered changing or amending the language in response to "a lot of letters" from vendors complaining that agencies have interpreted Year 2000 compliance in different ways, making it difficult to address all the many guidelines, said Richard Kellett, chairman of the FAR technology committee.

Asking for Too Much?

Vendor letters also complained about agencies demanding proof of Year 2000 compliance that surpasses the FAR rule, added Kellett, who also is the divisional director for emerging IT applications at the General Services Administration's Office of Government-wide Policy.

"Many agencies ask for more than what's in the FAR," said Jim Wilson, director of marketing for Unisys Corp.'s Federal Systems Division. Wilson said some agencies make multiple requests asking for the same information about whether vendors' products are Year 2000-compliant.

"You have to fill up so many forms for each division within a single department, all asking for similar information verifying Year 2000 compliance," Wilson said. "It has to hold up the Year 2000 projects at agencies. It's almost like the government is in an analysis paralysis stage."

In a letter sent to the Office of Governmentwide Policy, similar sentiments were expressed by the Coalition for Government Procurement. "Despite the existence of language in the Federal Acquisition Regulations defining Year 2000-compliant products, federal buyers in many agencies continue to impose more demanding and varying standards on federal contractors," the letter noted.

But the FAR committee unanimously decided at a March 31 meeting to retain the language, and the committee will not issue further guidance on interpretation of the rule. There is no need to publish additional guidance because "it's going to be an agency-by-agency, project-by-project interpretation and application of the FAR language as it relates to the Year 2000," Kellett said.

Agency procurement officials said they have a right to ask for more proof that vendor products are Year 2000-compliant. "The government must buy products that will work beyond the Year 2000," said Stan March, director of the Office of Information Technology Acquisitions at the Social Security Administration. "I don't think the government's being too stringent at all."

March said SSA had issued letters to "a small number of vendors" whose products, after being tested at the agency's test center, had proven not to be compliant. The vendors have 60 days to fix the products, and if the problems are not addressed, "we will go elsewhere," he said.

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin is sending letters to vendors stating that any product delivered to NASA must demonstrate Year 2000 compliance and that NASA contractors repairing or upgrading noncompliant systems must meet the governmentwide Office of Management and Budget deadline of March 1999 to have systems fixed, tested and installed.

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