OMB '100 percent' behind Air Force buying strategy

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - The federal government's top procurement official last week expressed support for the way the Air Force conducted the awards of three contracts worth more than $400 million but said her office is looking into questions raised by industry groups protesting the agency's acquisition strategy.

The Air Force's Standard Systems Group in March awarded blanket purchase agreements for desktop, laptop and server systems to Dell Computer Corp., Micron Government Systems and Gateway Inc.

SSG awarded all three contracts within a month after issuing the solicitation - a great example of how procurement reform can be used to an agency's benefit, said Deidre Lee, acting deputy director of management at the Office of Management and Budget and administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy at OMB. "Kudos to them; good job," said Lee, who was attending the General Services Administration's Roundup '99 conference here. "They got great...products and prices."

Following the award, the Professional Services Council and the Information Technology Association of America sent a letter to Lee requesting a review of SSG's new Information Technology Tools acquisition strategy. The groups are concerned that SSG's use of a survey of anonymous federal IT professionals to choose the vendors that would receive invitations to bid on the contracts violated the intent of competitive contracting.

The Air Force used the study "Federal Government IT Community Evaluates Vendor Competitiveness" as market research that is required under federal regulations for BPA acquisitions. The study was conducted by FCW Media Group Inc., parent company of Federal Computer Week.

Lee agreed that the Air Force's strategy calls into question some basic issues of the current contracting atmosphere, and her office is looking into that on a general scale, "but there is no negative reflection on [SSG]," she said.

"I stand behind the Air Force 100 percent," Lee said.

In fact, OFPP and other procurement officials are encouraging this kind of innovation in the procurement field, and agencies should not be punished for trying new methods, she said.

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