Rule would stifle DOD service buys

In a move that could severely impact the General Services Administration's schedule contracts, the Bush administration is expected to propose a regulation that would severely restrict how the Defense Department buys information technology services.

The White House wants to stop a long-standing DOD practice of hiring outside contractors to supply IT services on a labor-hour basis. That type of buying makes it difficult to conduct performance-based contracting, which the administration wants to encourage, procurement experts say. The new regulation would restrict DOD schedule service buys to firm, fixed-price task orders.

The seemingly arcane rule has created a firestorm and could have governmentwide ramifications because of how it would affect GSA's multibillion-dollar schedule contract program.

DOD schedule buys represent 54 percent of all schedule sales, GSA officials said. IT service purchases make up 57 percent of GSA Federal Supply Service (FSS) schedule sales.

Much of the growth in IT service sales has not been in firm, fixed-price purchases but instead in those typically classified as labor-hour, time and materials task orders. Therefore, the proposed change would knock the feet out from under the schedule contracts.

"This would have a devastating impact on the schedule program," said Steve Kelman, a professor of public management at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and a former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP).

The Bush administration seeks to include the firm, fixed-price provision as part of a rule designed to spur competition on multiple-award contracts. That rule is required by Section 803 of the fiscal 2001 Defense authorization bill. For task orders of $100,000 or more, Section 803 stipulates that DOD contracting officers must obtain three bids on a multiple-award contract.

Many observers were also disturbed by the timing of the proposal — just days before the rule is expected to be made public June 26.

DOD officials said they first saw the terms June 16, when the Office of Management and Budget sent DOD its version of the proposed rule.

And lawmakers were not even informed. "This is the first I've heard of it," Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's Technology and Procurement Policy Subcommittee, said June 20. "We've had zero conversations."

Davis said the provision was "premature" and that OFPP leader Angela Styles would meet resistance from lawmakers if OFPP attempted to impose the change.

The administration is considering issuing an interim Section 803 rule, which would leave open an opportunity for comment on the provision limiting schedule buys to firm, fixed prices.

Davis spokesman David Marin questioned whether this provision should be included in the Section 803 rule. This was never the intent of Section 803, he said.

Because the final version of the rule is under review, most officials would not comment. Deidre Lee, director of Defense procurement, and Roger Waldron, director of GSA FSS' acquisition management center, said they could not discuss the issue. Styles also said she could not talk about the rule.

Styles, however, suggested that the provision does not change the existing Federal Acquisition Regulation, which limits schedule contract service buys to firm, fixed prices.

But Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc. and a former Air Force procurement executive, said labor-hour, time and material task orders have become an "epidemic," and most agencies often use the orders to augment existing staff.

"They're not doing anything but buying bodies," generally a poor acquisition strategy, he said.

Others, however, said that the labor-hour, time and material task orders offer agencies the flexibility to accomplish their mission. "They are taking away major flexibility" from DOD just when it needs that flexibility to meet its national security mission, said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement, an industry group.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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