Competition lives

Washington, D.C., is a city of perceptions. Perhaps more than any place outside of Hollywood, how people act and react is based on how we perceive one another and policy issues, as well as on our vision of what constitutes the common good.

Unfortunately, inaccurate perceptions are behind rules that would re-regulate government acquisition generally and information technology acquisition specifically. Unless those who have clearly benefited from the current flexible and entrepreneurial set of procurement guidelines speak up, we may find ourselves re-regulated back into the procurement dark ages.

Reformed procurement methods work. Yet, some in the legislative and executive branches feel government procurement is broken. Section 803 rules, requiring new steps when the Defense Department acquires services from General Services Administration schedules and other indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts are just the first salvo. Without more light on the situation, more rules and laws are not far behind.

GSA, the government's largest civilian buyer of IT services and products, has programs that work extremely well. They provide agencies with multiple options from both well-known companies and small businesses. They ensure that the government gets today's technology today and not two years from now. They encourage discussions between suppliers and buyers, as well as market research, so that the buyer knows how to craft a better request for proposals or quotations, can shorten its lead time and can obtain a solution that works, not one that a contractor had to guess about.

These programs, and similar ones throughout government, move much of the competition in acquisition to the steps taken before a solicitation document is released.

The naysayers claim that only a few companies get the majority of the business under the new rules. Yet 48 members of the Coalition for Government Procurement have annual federal sales of more than $20 million — most in the technology and services areas. The coalition has 330 member companies. Can you imagine how many more companies are doing this much business or more?

Those who criticize government acquisition are using obsolete measurement tools to gauge the activity of today's government marketplace. These tools measure competition that takes place only after an RFP or RFQ has been issued. They may also only look at price and not best value. According to the tools, there's little competition in government acquisition, when in reality, competition takes place every day.

We must call a halt to efforts to re- regulate government acquisition until we get a truly accurate picture of what the government market looks like. Moving forward with new procurement rules at this time will only increase our costs, fix little or nothing, and make procurement more difficult and costly.

Contractors, government buyers and others who know that flexible acquisition rules are good for government must not be shy about sharing their message.

Allen is executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

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