OFPP readies new GWAC rules of the road

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy has begun working with agencies on a new set of principles for running governmentwide acquisition contracts that would help agencies determine when such procurements are appropriate and how they should be structured.

Deidre Lee, OFPP's administrator, last week said her office plans to develop best practices for GWACs. Among the questions she hopes to answer are: Which agencies should develop these contracts? How well do these vehicles serve agencies' missions? And how can agencies ensure that GWACs provide IT solutions to agencies' business problems?

Lee spoke at a meeting of the Association for Federal Information Resources Management and later in an interview.

The guidelines would follow the 18-month-old Mayflower Compact, a set of operating principles for GWACs agreed to by OFPP and four agencies that run such programs: the Defense Department, the National Institutes of Health, the Transportation Department and the General Services Administration's Federal Systems Integration and Management Center.

Under the compact, these agencies agreed, in part, to evaluate - whenever they recompeted contracts or launched new procurements - whether other procurement vehicles could meet their requirements. "I think we can learn some things from the contracts - which are used the most and why - and figure out a way to structure solutions,'' Lee said.

"Buying Brains"

Since the passage of acquisition reform laws five years ago, multiple-award, governmentwide services contracts have proliferated, along with increased use by agencies of the GSA schedules. Lee said she is concerned that as the number of schedules for services based on hourly rates increases, agencies do not "regress back to buying brains.'' Instead, they should structure contracts based on how well vendors perform.

Ella Schiralli, a government contracts adviser with the Washington, D.C.-based law firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips, said agencies need more than guidelines for running GWACs. "How much money is the government really spending and investing in these vehicles vs. what they're saving by way of this increased competition?'' she asked.

OMB took a step in that direction when it asked DOT to report twice a year on how much business goes through its Information Technology Omnibus Procurement II and how much it costs to run the contract.

Steven Kelman, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, devised the original Mayflower Compact when he was the head of OFPP. He said he was not aware of plans for a Mayflower II, but he said one question agencies should ask is whether they are able to provide "value-added'' services to customers, such as maintaining a past-performance database, rather than merely provide an ordering vehicle.

He said two early concerns about GWACs - ensuring that task orders are competed and that small businesses have a chance to bid - are now "more clearly on the agenda'' than they were two years ago. The issues have not been solved, he said.

Carl Peckinpaugh, an attorney with Winston & Strawn, Washington, D.C., and an FCW columnist, is skeptical about a second Mayflower Compact. In the first compact, "the massive GSA schedule program was not even addressed at all,'' he said. "As a consequence, [the Mayflower Compact] has had essentially no impact on the way the government does business."

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