Rule intended to ease homeland buys

The Federal Acquisition Regulation

An interim rule published today in the Federal Register makes it easier for civilian and defense agencies to make purchases related to homeland defense, a measure that some analysts believe opens the door for abuse.

The rule, listed by the Defense Department, the General Services Administration and NASA, modifies the Federal Acquisition Regulation and raises the micropurchase threshold from $2,500 to $7,500.

It also doubles — from $100,000 to $200,000 — the amount agencies can spend under the simplified acquisition threshold, which allows them to use a streamlined acquisition process with less documentation. For purchases or work done outside the United States, the rule raises this threshold to $300,000.

The changes apply only when the purchase is used for "defense against or recovery from terrorism or nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological attack." The interim measure allows agencies to operate under the new rule during the public comment period, which is open until March 28.

The changes initially will be well received, predicted Hope Lane, director of GSA schedule services at Rockville, Md., consulting firm Aronson and Co.

"This is a lessening of the requirements, and contractors always love this. Contracting officers love this," she said. "But whenever you have a lessening of something, somebody takes it too far."

Contractors already are attaching the phrase "homeland security" to products and services that are peripherally related — at best — to security, she said. She expects that trend to grow now that the rules have changed.

"It's the same way superfluous things get tacked onto emergency spending bills," she said. "[GSA will] come back and narrow the definition."

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