Letters to the editor

Right-Sizing Competition

In regard to Stan Soloway's letter to the editor [FCW, June 17] in response to Milt Zall's May 20 column, I would agree that competition often spurs better performance. However, when it comes to competing commercial activities with 10 or fewer federal employees, an agency needs to re-examine its administrative costs and burden to subject an activity to competition requirements in Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76.

Historically, A-76 studies and competitions involving 10 or fewer employees have shown minimal, if any, savings for agencies. In these times of limited resources, it makes no sense to conduct costly and time-consuming studies of small commercial activities for the sake of competition. Whatever happened to simple cost/benefit analysis or market research?

Because A-76 does not provide sufficient guidance on the "right-size" tools or methods for conducting reviews of smaller commercial activities (10 or fewer employees), the Interior Department had to find and deploy the best, most cost-effective way to meet the agency's competitive sourcing goals. Interior has more than 90 percent of its commercial activities inventory containing 10 or fewer employees dispersed across 2,000 locations. Many of Interior's commercial activities represent small numbers of federal employees performing multiple duties; they cannot be easily consolidated into groups large enough to attract wide contractor interest or provide economies of scale.

To address this need, Interior developed the "express review process" as an alternative to the A-76 cost comparison. It is designed to minimize the analytical effort necessary for federal managers to make realistic, sound and justifiable business decisions.

Clearly, the express review process provides the necessary basis for managers to make sound determinations using good business case analysis. Use of the traditional A-76 process will remain an option for big commercial activities and where it is determined to be most beneficial.

Jennings Wong Procurement analyst Interior Department

Service Buys Guidance

As a consultant who negotiates General Services Administration schedule contracts for companies, I have been closely following the proposed rules for Defense Department information technology services buys as published in the FCW article "Rule would stifle DOD service buys" [June 24].

The GSA IT schedule is a great vehicle for buying many IT products and services, but it is not suited for every acquisition. Obviously, when responding to new rules, each trade group and government agency has an agenda to push, but perhaps each needs to look at the rules that are already in place and work them into the schedule's program.

If this regulation makes sense for DOD, it should be applied to the entire federal government. What is so different in civilian agencies that the rules should not apply to them? Are time-and-materials contracts only a bad idea for DOD?

What I find ironic is that no one has brought up Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 16. It addresses "policies and procedures and provides guidance for selecting a contract type appropriate to the circumstances of the acquisition." Specifically, Subpart 16.6 deals with the use of letter, labor-hour and time-and-materials contracts.

The rules for time-and- materials contracts state, in part, that such contracts "may be used only when it is not possible at the time of placing the contract to estimate accurately the extent or duration of work or to anticipate costs with any reasonable degree of confidence."

It goes on to say, "A time-and-materials contract may be used (1) only after the contracting officer executes a determination and finds that no other contract type is suitable; and (2) only if the contract includes a ceiling price that the contractor exceeds at its own risk. The contracting officer shall document the contract file to justify the reasons for and amount of any subsequent change in the ceiling price."

The rules for buying from GSA schedules have changed little in the past few years, with the exception of adding information on the GSA Advantage online ordering system and the use of blanket purchase agreements. There is nothing to cover the acquisition of services within these rules, and anyone experienced in procuring services knows that you don't buy services the same way you buy products.

Perhaps all agencies should be directed to FAR Part 16 when choosing a contract type for services under GSA schedules. A time-and-materials contract may or may not be the best way to procure services, but the guidance already exists for making the determination and documenting the findings.

Patti Reardon President Government Sales Consultants Inc.

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