Agencies to get new IT buying guidance

To address booming sales and a lack of understanding, the General Services

Administration and the Office of Management and Budget will put out revised

guidance for all federal agencies on how to buy information technology services

off the Federal Supply Service schedule contracts.

A General Accounting Office review of four Department of Defense contracting

offices highlighted an overall lack of understanding of how to procure information

technology services on the FSS schedules.

The GAO review of 22 DOD IT services buys — together totaling more than

$112 million — found that 17 contracting officers did not follow GSA and

Federal Acquisition Regulation procedures.

The review covered just a portion of the total increase in use of the

FSS schedules to procure IT services. Overall, government services purchases

off schedule increased from $1.2 billion in fiscal 1998 to $4.4 billion

in fiscal 2000.

GSA and the Office of Federal Procurement Policy have made some guidance

revisions since 1998 to cover services buys. But GAO is concerned that the

key reason the Defense contracting officers did not follow procedure is

that many were not aware of GSA's competition requirements, and the guidance

from the FAR is not clear.

"The lack of clear guidance on when to seek competitive quotes increased

the risk that agencies would not identify and acquire the lowest-cost alternatives

to meet their needs," the report states.

In a response to the report, Carolyn Alston, FSS' deputy assistant commissioner

for acquisition, said that GSA would step up its outreach programs in an

effort to educate agency contracting officers and program managers about

the requirements for placing and managing service orders on the schedules.

Additionally, the OFPP pointed out a draft rule change to the FAR that

would clarify procedures for ordering services from the schedules. Kenneth

Oscar, acting deputy administrator of OFPP, wrote that the agency will be

working with the FAR Council to develop a proposed rule that will address

the GAO concerns.

OFPP is also working with GSA and DOD to write a discussion paper to

address the "effective use" of interagency contracts, including the schedules.

This paper will be included in a handbook that the Department of Defense

is developing on acquiring commercial products and services, and "once the

handbook is issued, we intend to highlight this coverage to civilian agencies

as a handy reference," Oscar wrote.

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