Sked can help DOD out of contracting mess

The early results of government procurement reform are slowly coming in. While the picture being painted is one of a streamlined, more efficient and entrepreneurial acquisition system, some feel that the Defense Department has painted a mustache on its own procurement reform masterpiece. Thankfully, like Leonardo da Vinci's recently restored "Last Supper," assistance is readily available to those DOD agencies desiring a "touch up" of their portrait.

At issue is DOD's use of several of its own multiple-award, indefinite-quantity contracts. Reports from the General Accounting Office and DOD's own inspector general show that many DOD buyers do not compete individual task orders when using MAIQ contracts but instead place orders with contractors with whom they have a close working relationship or a recent past experience.

DOD agencies have come under attack from their own inspector general, GAO and some in Congress who were never big fans of procurement reform. Predictably, various representatives of these groups have called for the return of regulation of government procurement processes, for statements that contracting officers have "too much" flexibility and even for proposals that would allow protests to be made against the placement of task orders.

A readily available procurement alternative exists that, if correctly used, meets the demands of procurement reform skeptics and still allows federal agencies to get what they want in a timely manner.

For years the General Services Administration's multiple-award schedule program has provided government customers with what they want, when they want it and in accordance with all applicable federal regulations.

An examination of how the GSA schedule program stacks up against the points raised in the most recent DOD IG report illustrate this best.

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Issue: The report charged that DOD awarded task orders without regard to price.

Schedules Solution: All GSA schedule contract prices have been determined fair by a warranted contracting officer. Spot discounts may be given in competitive situations. Schedule buying also emphasizes obtaining the best value, not just the lowest price.

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Issue: The report charged that DOD directed work on a sole-source basis.

Schedules Solution: Schedule ordering instructions (Federal Acquisition Regulation 8.4) direct agencies to consider all alternatives on GSA Advantage! or at least three price lists from potential suppliers. GSA has a dedicated team of professionals who travel the country to educate buyers about proper schedule usage.

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Issue: The report said all contractors must have a fair chance.

Schedules Solution: GSA's upfront negotiation ensures that contractors have a level playing field in terms of reasonable price, delivery terms and other factors. Agencies are directed to consider multiple contractors when placing orders and to seek additional competition when large dollar amounts are involved. Companies compete for business just as they do in the commercial market.

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Issue: The report called for DOD to establish goals and performance measures.

Schedules Solution: GSA's ordering instructions for services specifically state that federal agencies must set up performance measures as well as a performance time table. According to members of the Coalition for Government Procurement, most agencies take these instructions seriously.

Rather than returning to the days of time-consuming, costly and protest-riddled procurement, DOD and other federal agencies can easily turn to GSA's multiple-award schedules. With help from GSA officials and knowledgeable contractors, buyers can still take advantage of streamlined procurement methods without creating stand-alone procurement methods that detract from an agency's core mission and detract from the overall intention of procurement reform to create a government that works better and costs less.

That creates a picture all of us can recognize as a work of art.

-- Caggiano is president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

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