Spawar orders buying review

The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, concerned about possible abuses in information technology contracting, has instituted high-level reviews of new, streamlined computer contracts based on the General Services Administration schedule.

Rear Adm. John Gauss, Spawar commander, said he ordered the reviews because the government could use GSA schedule contracts and blanket purchase agreements "to do de facto sole-source contracting. If goods and services are available on multiple BPAs, it is very easy and straightforward to compete for these goods and services across these BPAs. It is simple, and it doesn't take a lot of time."

Gauss said that if the Navy avoids competition, "then we are guilty of abusing the new processes and procedures available under acquisition reform."

Gauss said Spawar has not been provided adequate guidance on how to use BPAs and comply with the spirit and intent of acquisition reform and the Competition in Contracting Act, which requires agencies to consider price or cost in all procurement decisions. He also said Spawar has not conducted an adequate management review of BPAs because approval authority has been delegated too low in the organization.Gauss said the new process for approval of BPAs stems from concerns he expressed last year at a Spawar industry day in San Diego. At that time, he said, "I told folks [that] if we are not careful with the prudent use of these vehicles, acquisition reform will become acquisition abuse."

A Spawar spokesman said the command has become concerned that BPAs, which started out as a tool to save the government money, have become ineffective and result in little or no savings and higher prices.Analysts and industry executives said the number and scale of BPAs throughout the government has resulted in potentially higher, not lower, costs to federal purchasers. Eben Townes, vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., described the Navy BPA situation as "so many, for so few," meaning that "the quantities are not what they should be on an order.... Maybe if the 28 [Spawar PC BPAs] were wrapped up into one, you could get a better price consideration."

Even though BPAs have been hailed as a streamlined approach to purchasing commercial products such as PCs, Townes added that his research shows that there are organizations within the Defense Department "doing BPAs as they did old-type acquisitions," replete with mounds of paperwork, Townes said. The number of BPAs that the services hold with the same company make it hard to get a handle on the best price, Townes added.

The proliferation of BPAs "has gone too far," said Alan Bechara, vice president of Comark Federal Systems."The abuse is an overuse of contracting vehicles that are not meaningful," he said. "BPAs have become a method to beat down price. Service suffers, and people are still inundated with paperwork." Bechara said he believes savvy buyers can learn how to negotiate orders from the basic GSA schedule without the need to set up a BPA.

The review process should not add time to what has been billed as a fast-track contracting approach designed to keep DOD users current with commercial technology, Gauss said.

Spawar's IT Umbrella contracting organization has a wide range of BPAs, including 28 vehicles from which users can purchase desktop PCs, 13 available for the purchase of portable computers and more than 10 for purchasing networking components.

Gauss said the Spawar staff is developing a set of rules that will allow him to "delegate approval authority to staff codes at headquarters and to senior leadership at my [systems centers]."

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