Editorial: Reasonable contracting

Vendors might have good cause to be worried about the fate of the Homeland Security Department's long-awaited multibillion-dollar contract for information technology services. Meanwhile, procurement experts at the General Services Administration ought to be gearing up for new business.

After waiting more than a year to bid on the Security, Planning and Integrated Resources for Information Technology (SPIRIT) contract, potential bidders learned last week that they would have to wait at least another month — and maybe even longer.

DHS officials explained last week that they were delaying the release of the solicitation so they could make sure that SPIRIT's scope did not overlap significantly with existing contracts. If that is the case, there's a good chance SPIRIT will never see the light of day.

The question of overlap has loomed large but has barely been addressed since governmentwide acquisition contracts began popping up in the late 1990s.

Officials at GSA, which was created to help agencies procure products and services, have set up several multiple-award contract programs through which agencies can buy a broad array of IT services. Defense Department officials, among others, have made frequent use of GSA's Millennia and Millennia Lite for projects worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Instead of running their own procurements, agencies can push projects through these contracts as task orders, reducing the cost and time needed to do the work.

Any time agency officials decide they need their own contracts, they ought to answer a simple, straightforward question: What services do they require that cannot be met by these existing vehicles?

Occasionally, agencies might find they have specialized requirements that cannot be completed by general contracts. But often, that is probably not the case. Nothing has been said to suggest that SPIRIT is one of the exceptions.

At some point, agencies need to get out of the task order-based contracting business and let GSA officials do the work they know best.

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