GSA plan to keep sked partners 'evergreen'

The General Services Administration this month completed work on a plan to let multiple-award schedule vendors remain in the program indefinitely through new "evergreen" contracts that run five years and are followed by continuous five-year option periods.

Bill Gormley, assistant commissioner for acquisition at GSA's Federal Supply Service, said he believes the proposal will be popular with vendors because it will cut down on the negotiations and paperwork associated with obtaining a new schedule contract.

He said agencies have been asking for the evergreen contracts as a means to ensure that suppliers will not disappear after their schedule contracts expire.

"The customer wants to know how long their relationships with schedule contractors will last," Gormley said. "We need to support our customers' ability to maintain multiyear relationships with them. This will make the schedules look more like a commercial acquisition model."

Gormley said the evergreen contracts, which he hopes to begin awarding by the end of this year, will only be available to vendors that sell their products through GSA Advantage, the agency's electronic commerce system. Vendors that do not want evergreen contracts may opt for standard five-year schedule contracts with no option years.

Ed O'Hare, the GSA Advantage program manager, told an industry audience at a conference sponsored by the Coalition for Government Procurement that GSA is using the prospect of evergreen contracts as a carrot to entice schedule vendors to participate in the GSA Advantage program. He said that White House officials have been disappointed in the level of participation in the program, and GSA officials hope to improve the situation giving contractors "a clear economic reason" to join in.

"Evergreen is something you would want to do as a vendor because it cuts your costs," O'Hare told the group.

Although Gormley said industry has responded enthusiastically to the proposal, it remains unclear whether vendors will wholeheartedly endorse the idea. Larry Allen, executive director of the coalition, said legal obstacles may prevent his organization from supporting the evergreen-contracts idea.

"One hurdle is coming up with a common-sense agreement on GSA Advantage," Allen said. "There is a healthy amount of skepticism on whether GSA can mandate that companies with evergreen contracts have to be on GSA Advantage."

Allen also questioned what impact the plan would have on the contentious issue of contract audits. He said FSS officials have said evergreen contracts would do away with all pre-award audits, a move vendors have long requested.

But Allen said he was concerned that federal inspectors general, who have insisted on the ability to conduct these audits, would not agree to the plan.

"I don't think these hurdles are necessarily insurmountable," Allen said. "But I'm going to withhold judgment for now."

Gormley said he plans to meet with vendors and industry associations in the coming months to enlist their support for the initiative.

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