Editorial: Rules of the road

How many governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) does the government need?

Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator David Safavian has taken the right steps by assessing the GWAC landscape.

"We plan to evaluate whether these vehicles are effectively aligned to bring the agency's programmatic or contracting expertise to bear on high-priority management initiatives," Safavian said.

With officials looking at reorganizing the General Services Administration, this is the right time for OFPP's review of the government contracting world as it stands today.

Most discussions focus on two options, with the procurement pendulum swinging from one extreme to the other. One option is that GSA could become the contractor of choice for federal agencies, and that has several benefits. GSA, unlike most agencies, has the contracting expertise. Unlike almost every other agency, GSA's mission is to buy stuff.

The second option and countervailing argument is that competition is good, and GWACs provide GSA with competition so that the agency remains focused on good service.

No easy solution exists, and proponents on both sides make valid arguments. Both paths have pitfalls, too. If contracts were to be unified within GSA, would it take us back to the days of the Brooks Act? On the other hand, the current environment led, however indirectly, to contracting abuses in which Abu Ghraib prison interrogators were purchased using an information technology contract.

The United States has thrived on an economic system that encourages competition. When that competition slipped out of whack, new rules had to be put in place to create proper boundaries within the competitive marketplace.

What we need are fresh ideas for preserving both competition and the integrity of the system. Is it possible, for example, to create a new model in which agencies continue to run GWACs but with guidance and oversight — mentoring, if you will — from procurement experts at GSA?

This is a great opportunity to find a new approach, rather than sending the pendulum swinging side to side. n

— John Monroe and Christopher J. Dorobek

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