Letters to the Editor

Making the rules

In reference to Steven Kelman's Op-Ed piece "Silence of protestors' bark signals new era" [FCW, Feb. 22], just because two large companies have not protested awards to other companies does not mean that procurement changes are a success. The federal government not only sets the rules by which its contractors must play, it has the unique ability to make and enforce its own law.

If you get to make all the rules - and new rules make it harder for players to challenge the rules - it is hardly surprising that there are fewer challenges.

The old procurement rules were not necessarily bad ones. Contractors could challenge awards only if the government violated its own rules, usually by doing something that could be considered unfair, capricious or against the best interests of its people.

Is it better for the government and its contractors to operate as partners rather than adversaries? In the long run, yes. Is the government behaving as a good partner? Maybe.

The government still demands treatment and information that private companies cannot get, such as cost and pricing data, preferential delivery, auditing rights and even pay limits on senior staff. It has vendors competing for the right to do business and then competing again to do the actual business under General Services Administration; indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity; and multiple-award agency contracts.

For small business, the federal government is an even more difficult partner. The government says it promotes small business while promoting competition for smaller dollar purchases with the GSA schedule and dedicated contracts.

These contracts require large administrative staffs exclusively dedicated to this business, a business that can't be replicated outside the federal government. True, small businesses have small staffs, but the government defines small businesses so that multibillion dollar companies compete against one man shops. Many government policies promote item cost over a solution or a relationship.

Small businesses cannot compete on a cost basis with large businesses. However, they can provide personal attention, service and a long-term solution that can provide a better value. Tell me, would you choose a mate because you knew he or she would accept a cheaper engagement ring?

Tony StirkPresidentIron HorseBurke, Va.

*****

Reinventing history

In his Feb. 22 column, Steven Kelman argued that the absence of a bid protest against the General Services Administration's FTS 2001 contract award decision is an example of how much public contracting has changed in recent years. Interestingly, Kelman did not mention, and may not have known, that the disappointed offerors on the predecessor contracts did not protest either.

Although there was considerable wrangling over various issues on the FTS 2000 procurement, including an abortive complaint by a disappointed subcontractor, none of the disappointed offerors protested the award decision.

It may be all right to "reinvent" some things, but history isn't one of them.

Carl PeckinpaughWinston & StrawnWashington, D.C.

*****

One size doesn't fit all

"Finding the right handheld computer" [FCW, Feb. 22] presents some, but not all, of the issues regarding the use of handheld computers. Handheld computers are different from desktop and laptop computers in that one size no longer fits all purposes. Before selecting a handheld computer, you must first consider what function it will perform.

We have found that for data collection purposes, such as engineers tracking the progress of construction projects or tracking in-bound packages, that pen-centric computers are far more usable than are keyboard-centric devices. Our users have found that using a clamshell type of computer is quite awkward while standing up. The review did not mention other important pen-centric handheld computers such as Casio Inc.'s PA-2400, Vadem Inc.'s Clio and Sharp Electronics Corp.'s Mobilon TriPad.

Other issues that should be considered include connectivity to back-end systems, battery life, integrated scanners, communications capabilities (wireless and wired) and memory size/expandability.

Anthony MeadowPresidentBear River Associates Inc.Oakland, Calif.

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