A management miscue

Forget for a moment the specifics of a soon-to-be proposed rule that would limit the Defense Department's ability to buy information technology services through the General Services Administration schedule.

As much as industry officials are concerned about the impact on GSA business, they are alarmed that the Office of Federal Procurement Policy waited until less than two weeks before publishing its proposal to inform DOD officials, at which point word leaked into the market and eventually to Congress.

That is a strange way, many observers say, to bring about what could be a major change to government procurement. The rule would prohibit DOD from using the GSA schedule to award task orders based on the cost of labor-hours and materials — which is the bulk of IT services work that passes through the schedule. IT services now account for more than half of all GSA schedule sales, amounting to more than $6 billion in business in fiscal 2001.

OFPP officials are responding to numerous reports from the General Accounting Office and the DOD inspector general that found that contracting officers are pushing task orders through the GSA schedule without properly competing the work.

These concerns may be justified — procurement experts have warned for years that GSA schedule business was vulnerable to misuse — but OFPP did itself a disservice by not taking the time to fully vet the idea with everyone involved.

Some might argue that the business won't go away, but will just go through different venues. But the flexibility of the GSA schedule has played an important role in making industry vendors more responsive to government requirements and making government agencies smarter high-tech consumers.

OFPP may need to change the rules in the interest of better competition. But OFPP is more likely to arrive at a sound policy by bringing all the players to the table so they can help craft the solution.

That dialogue, no doubt, will take place in the months ahead, now that the word is out. It's just a shame that OFPP has allowed the discussion to begin on such a sour note.

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