Contractors believe the GSA schedule is necessary for government business

Bowing to the wishes of their long-standing federal customers, information technology vendors have flocked to the General Services Administration's multiple-award schedule (MAS) this year in record numbers.

Bill Gormley, assistant commissioner for acquisition at GSA's Federal Supply Service, said the MAS program has seen a net gain of 220 more IT schedule contracts this year, with new vendors coming into the program each week.

Although he said about 300 companies routinely drop out of the program each year— often due to the constantly changing IT marketplace— FSS has awarded 534 new contracts this year, bringing the total number of vendors to 1,435. FSS could award nearly 200 more contracts before the end of the fiscal year, Gormley said.

Gormley said he partially attributes the rising number of vendors to demands from federal agencies that their favorite IT vendors make their products and services available via the MAS program. "A lot of the companies that are new to the schedules program have come to us based on their customers' interest," Gormley said.

" 'Do you have a GSA schedule?' is becoming a common question."

He said the convenience of the program has made it increasingly popular with agencies that are coming to realize that quick procurements do not equate to shoddy procurements.

Schedule contracts for IT services account for much of the rise, according to Gormley. GSA first expanded the FSS schedule to include services in 1996. There are now 513 schedule contracts for IT services, up from 237 last June.

This spring has seen a rise in the availability of education and training services on the schedule, with offerings from current GSA contractors such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and newcomers such as the Software Productivity Consortium.

SPC is a nonprofit organization of more than 60 companies, government agencies and universities that focuses on improving the systems and software engineering methodologies across government and industry. Last month SPC was awarded its first GSA schedule.

"We needed a vehicle where the government could get at the services we wanted to provide," said Kenneth Nidiffer, vice president for business development at SPC, Herndon, Va. Without GSA, "to get a government contract took a very long period of time, if it had any substantial nature to it at all," he said.

The amount of GSA business in the first three weeks has been outstanding, he said.

Talx Corp., a company that provides interactive voice-response and call center services, recently obtained a GSA schedule after finding that going through third-party vendors was awkward and expensive. Talx decided to negotiate a schedule because the company's business with the federal government is growing.

Even large companies with years of experience in the federal market are just coming into the program. CDW Computer Centers Inc., a 14-year-old computer reseller based in Vernon Hills, Ill., with $1.2 billion in sales last year, received its first schedule contract about a month ago.

Kimberly Testin, senior sales manager at CDW, said her company traditionally has sold its products directly to federal agencies. While the company sold about $100 million worth of equipment to its government and education customers last year, many of its federal customers explicitly asked the company to apply for a schedule contract, Testin said. "We've had a lot of customers ask us to sell to them off the GSA schedule. It's definitely one of the preferred vehicles."

Vendors who apply for the contracts almost uniformly boast that the contracts have "streamlined" their sales efforts. With fewer restrictions on sales volume and on the types of equipment and services available through the contracts, agencies in some cases are demanding that their favorite vendors get with the program.

Kate Tretter, vice president of marketing at DT Software Inc., Arlington, Va., had never heard of the MAS program when an official from the Justice Department suggested her company apply for a schedule contract about 18 months ago.

Despite warnings from a colleague that Tretter would never survive the GSA negotiation process, DT Software got its first one-year schedule in March 1997. This year, the company renewed that schedule for five years, she said.

Similarly, Jeannine Roso, director of administration at Sabre Systems Inc., Warminster, Pa., said her company obtained a schedule contract earlier this year to make it easier to sell its IT services to existing federal customers. "Our customers have experience with us and know we do a great job," Roso said. "The schedule [makes] it easier for our customers to use our services."

However, some of the newcomers will find their efforts to get a GSA schedule disappointing, said Terry Miller, president of Government Sales Consultants Inc. About 5 percent of the vendors capture the bulk of the schedule buys, and one-third do almost no schedule business— even after going through the trouble of getting a schedule, Miller said.

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