SSG flies through reform

The Air Force Standard Systems Group thrust itself to the forefront of the federal information technology procurement community last week with the fast-track award of six blanket purchase agreements potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The six BPAs, for PCs and peripherals, mark the first in a long series of awards in SSG's Information Technology Tools strategy. When IT2 is complete, SSG will have put in place enough BPAs to replace a wide variety of indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts, including Desktop V, the latest and apparently last contract in one of the Defense Department's oldest and most successful PC procurement programs.

With this first round, SSG invited only the PC makers that it believed could offer top-quality wares at prices significantly below the General Services Administration schedule and that had proven track records in the federal market. More importantly, SSG took just one month from issuing the invitations to bid to making the awards. Desktops IV and V each took 12 months or more to open for business.

SSG's strategy represents the culmination of many years of procurement reform across government: the ability of an agency to get the products it wants at good prices and in a remarkably short time.

But IT2 also comes with the potential pitfalls inherent in the shift to BPAs. SSG essentially closed off hundreds of millions of dollars of potential business to all but a few vendors and closed the deals quickly despite industry concerns.

The days of wide-open competition, when a dark-horse vendor could capture a marquee pact with a savvy bid and make a name for itself, are gone. This is no minor change. For years, the federal government has made a point of leveling the playing field as much as possible to foster the innovation.

But SSG has settled on buying brand-name products, and it prefers, more often than not, to buy directly from the manufacturers. With IT2, where so much business is at stake, some people might wonder how much innovation is given up in the restricted competition. But this, for better or worse, is where procurement reform has brought us.

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