Vendors say buying reg too vague

Ambiguities in the acquisition law that requires federal agencies to buy "accessible" products should be clarified before the law takes effect, technology vendors have told the General Services Administration.

As written, the Federal Acquisition Regulation could be interpreted as more restrictive than was intended by new federal accessibility standards, the Information Technology Association of America said in a letter to GSA acquisition chief David Drabkin.

For example, the FAR does not address "equivalent facilitation," a concept endorsed in the accessibility standards of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Section 508 sets standards to ensure that computers, software and other electronic office technology bought by the federal government are usable or "accessible" by people with disabilities. Section 508 takes effect June 21, which is four days before the FAR changes take effect June 25.

Equivalent facilitation permits agencies to buy products that don't meet Section 508 standards if the products are shown to provide equivalent or better access.

The FAR also fails to include clear instructions on what agencies should do when products they need do not fully satisfy accessibility standards. Section 508 says agencies should buy the products that best meet the standards, but ITAA officials fear that absence of clear instructions in the FAR will lead to procurement delays.

The association's leaders also want clearer language about the information vendors must provide regarding the 508 compliance of products to be bought in indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts.

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