GSA to ease SmartBuy fears

Reducing Cost and Improving Quality in Federal Purchases of Commercial Software

The General Services Administration will begin meeting with agencies next week to discuss their specific needs under enterprise software licenses.

As GSA moves ahead with SmartBuy, a new enterprise licensing program, it is striving to clear up the misconceptions that abound among agencies, said Neal Fox, assistant commissioner at GSA's Office of Acquisition.

Many agency officials thought the announcement of SmartBuy meant they had to freeze their individual agency procurements, he said. SmartBuy is a mechanism the agency will use to sign contracts for specific commodity software products governmentwide, creating a license that agencies must use when buying those products.

The Office of Management and Budget, in announcing the new program, said "agencies should, to the maximum extent practicable, refrain from entering into any new or renewal software licensing agreements pending a review by OMB and the SmartBuy initiative team."

"Some people thought there was a freeze," Fox said. "We're going to be working to put in place agreements that are going to take some period of time [to complete], and we don't want to shut down operations."

Now, GSA officials are trying to make sure agencies make their specific requirements known so that they can be added into the enterprise licenses. The agency wants to make sure that maintenance arrangements, service agreements and other details are in the enterprise licenses from the start.

"Customers don't just want shrink-wrapped software. They want the service and maintenance that goes with it," Fox said. "No two titles of software are sold in the same way or have the same conditions around them. We want to make sure our customers are engaged with the SmartBuy team" to make sure they get their requirements in.

The individual agency meetings will allow the organizations an opportunity to discuss their needs with GSA.

The agencies aren't the only entities that are nervous about the new system, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. Many vendors — coalition members — are worried that the enterprise licenses will constitute a locked door for them.

"There's a huge perception that, despite assurances to the contrary, a number of firms are going to be shut out," Allen said.

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