GSA: New financial schedule due by fall

The General Services Administration last week outlined the transition to new financial management software contracts when the current mandatory schedule expires in September.

The Financial Management System Software (FMSS) schedule, held by GSA's Federal Technology Service, has been under fire from agencies and vendors for several years. Agencies said many of the more popular commercial FMS packages were not available on the mandatory schedule, while many vendors said the certification test to get on the schedule was too confusing and cumbersome.

Meanwhile, the General Accounting Office failed most government agencies in two audit reports conducted during the past year. GAO officials blamed many of the problems agencies have in tracking equipment and spending on poor financial management systems.

GSA has been working for more than a year with the Joint Financial Management Improvement Program (JFMIP) and the CIO Council to revamp the schedule and the certification test. Now that both steps are finished, GSA plans to have most of the first round of products and services available when ordering starts Oct. 1, said FSS contracting officer Walter Eckbreth.

Late last year, GSA moved the contracting authority for the new financial management software contracts to the Federal Supply Service nonmandatory Group 70 schedule. These new contracts, in addition to the core financial system, can include complimentary services, maintenance and training.

The agency also worked with the Office of Management and Budget to change relevant regulations, including OMB Circular A-127, which regulates all federal financial management systems, to require only that agencies purchase software certified by JFMIP, not off a specific contract.

This change is important because it will open up many opportunities for agencies. Beginning Oct. 1, agencies can purchase JFMIP-certified financial management software and services any way they want, including creating their own contracts, instead of going through GSA, said FMSS contracting officer Kathy Wood.

JFMIP this month completed the overhaul of the certification test, and several vendors have submitted applications for the initial round of tests. That first round will be tested by Sept. 31, when the current schedule expires, said Karen Alderman, executive director of JFMIP.

Under the new certification process, the systems must pass 100 percent of core requirements. Nonmandatory, value-added functions also will be included in the test, but not on a pass-fail basis.JFMIP also plans to include descriptions of how the vendors' systems pass the different requirements, when possible. This is information that agencies told JFMIP they wanted to help them better choose systems that fit their needs, and at least half of the vendors agreed, according to Stephen Balsam, systems accountant for the JFMIP Program Management Office.

"Our agencies really want this information," Balsam said. "If [the vendors] pass the test, we would like to publish that kind of information."

As soon as vendors are notified that their software has passed, negotiations for contracts will begin so that as many packages as possible are available Oct. 1, Eckbreth said. At that point, agencies seeking new financial management systems or services can start ordering from GSA or on their own.

Agencies with systems purchased under the FMSS schedule should sign system life orders with the vendor responsible for the system to ensure that there is support for the system whether or not it is certified under the new test, Wood said.

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