OFPP may review AF buying strategy

In reaction to a letter sent from two industry advisory groups, the Office of Federal Procurement Policy may review an Air Force decision to use an independent survey as the basis for selecting vendors to bid on blanket purchase agreements.

In February, the Air Force's Standard Systems Group (SSG) invited several vendors to bid on two BPAs under its new Information Technology Tools (IT2) strategy. SSG used a survey of federal IT professionals to determine vendors eligible to compete based on their past-performance ratings.

The survey, "Federal Government IT Community Evaluates Vendor Competitiveness," was based on ratings by anonymous Federal Computer Week subscribers and issued in March 1998 by FCW Media Group Inc., the parent company of FCW.

Last month, SSG awarded BPAs worth $417 million to Dell Marketing LP, Gateway Inc. and Micron Electronics Inc. for desktops, servers and notebooks. They also awarded BPAs worth a reported $35 million annually to Comark Federal Systems, Government Technology Services Inc. and Westwood Computer Corp. for peripherals, including printers, scanners and plotters.

The Information Technology Association of America and the Professional Services Council (PSC) sent a joint letter to OFPP administrator Deidre Lee asking for a "careful policy review," saying they believe that the data and how it was used "completely contradicts...fundamental precepts of how past-performance systems should operate.

"We believe strongly that the basic past-performance principles that have been developed by OFPP and widely implemented in government must be universally applicable," the letter states. "This is uniquely important for past performance because it - more than any other element of the reform architecture - has a major and often dominant impact on who can compete and who wins or loses."

OFPP is looking into the issues raised by the letter and next week will decide whether to launch a full review, Lee said. "We have made certain commitments regarding past performance," including relevance and the ability of vendors to rebut poor testimony, two issues raised in the letter, she said.

One problem with requiring past performance is that "in most cases the government doesn't have past-performance systems," said Chip Mather, senior vice president of consulting firm Acquisition Solutions Inc. But past performance is still an important aspect of determining vendor eligibility for federal contracting, he said.

PSC president Bert Concklin said Lee "accepts our thesis that using a generalized, non-relevant survey as the primary source for past performance to choose who is eligible to bid is wrong."

"There are certain operating principles for BPAs, but there are certain cross-cutting issues, and we need to look at where those intersected and where they should have intersected," Lee said.

The intent of the survey was to provide a cost-effective way for agencies to quantify past performance and provide a measurement of vendors' brand value in the federal market, said Steve LeCompte, vice president of research and development for FCW Media Group.

"The key test is relevance," Concklin said.

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