Procurement changes 'clean house'

The White House Office of Federal Procurement Policy is readying three policy changes that could significantly change how agencies acquire information technology products and services.

The long-awaited draft revisions to the Office of Management and Budget's Circular A-76, which sets out the rules for competing and comparing the cost of commercial services with the private sector, should be issued around the first week of October, said Angela Styles administrator of OFPP. She spoke Sept. 19 at the Homeland Security TechExpo in Washington, D.C.

The revisions stem from an interagency task force and are expected to bring about many of the changes recommended by the public/private Commercial Activities Panel earlier this year. Those recommendations include basing the competition process more on the Federal Acquisition Regulation, which is used to ensure best-value procurement of commercial products and services.

"I think we've cleaned house," Styles said. The changes are "going to ensure that public/private sector competition in the government is vigorous."

The A-76 process is the easiest way for agencies to comply with the competitive sourcing goals laid out by the Bush administration in the President's Management Agenda. The near-term goal is for each agency, by the end of fiscal 2003, to put out for bid at least 15 percent of the government functions deemed to be commercial-like activities.

OFPP working groups also have been focusing on other issues, including competition for small businesses under the contract-bundling process and new guidelines for developing and managing performance-based service contracts.

Many in Congress and the small-business community have expressed concern about whether contract bundling keeps small businesses from being able to compete for millions of dollars' worth of contracts that otherwise would not be performed by large vendors.

OFPP has been developing recommendations for President Bush about the potential for unbundling existing contracts, and those recommendations are "close to ready," Styles said. One of the last steps is to have final talks with the Defense Department to ensure agreement across the board, she added.

Performance-based service contracting is on the rise, as agencies move toward awarding more service contracts and outsourcing more back-office functions, but it is still a relatively new acquisition process.

The performance-based service contracting recommendations are in the final review stage within OFPP, but officials are still trying to decide whether to distribute them to agencies for input before releasing them to the public for comment, Styles said.

The TechExpo was sponsored by the Office of Homeland Security and the Commerce Department's Technology Administration and Bureau of Industry and Security.

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