Larry Allen

Op-ed: Dispelling the myth of GSA schedule lag times

Editors note: This article has been changed from a previous version. The original incorrectly stated that CIO Vivek Kundra had cited an 18-month procurement cycle for IT purchases from the GSA Schedules program. Kundra, as first quoted by Information Week, did not mention GSA Schedules in his broad critique of the government IT procurement process.

Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra recently told InformationWeek that the General Services Administration should consider a Web-based storefront approach to contracting for information technology solutions.

In the interview, as Federal Computer Week reported June 30, Kundra said it can take 18 months to get new technology through the usual federal procurement processes. While this may be the case for many procurement options, others – such as the GSA schedules program – offer the government access to today’s technology today. It’s not just a matter of the technology solution you purchase, but how you purchase it.

Many IT companies update their schedule offerings on a weekly or even more frequent basis. Federal buyers have access to the same solutions as their commercial counterparts when they buy from schedule contracts. There is no need for agencies to be second-class users of technology given the ready availability and good values offered by the IT schedule.

Furthermore, schedule purchases can be completed in a fraction of the time it takes to conduct a new procurement from scratch. Contractors have been vetted, base-level pricing established and federal contract terms negotiated. Schedule purchases move at the speed of need for customer agencies. Making use of GSA’s existing electronic tools, such as e-Buy and GSA Advantage, ensures that the procurement is not just fast but also competed and transparent.

Long lead times for IT procurements are more frequently the norm when customers don’t use IT schedule contracts. In addition to having to qualify potential contractors, specific periods of time must be set aside to allow for the receipt of offers, and someone has to review each of them.

Next, if the procurement is large enough, a round of protests can ensue. All those steps can easily lead to a procurement cycle of 18 months or more, yet they have nothing to do with an IT schedule procurement.

There is certainly a place for new ideas — such as Web-based storefronts, of which GSA Advantage is an early example — or other innovative acquisition solutions. Making use of technology to better obtain technology ensures the continuous improvement of the acquisition cycle. GSA is and should be investing in new technologies to make schedule buying even more transparent and competitive.

Like the private sector, the government benefits from an infusion of new ideas. However, it is important that those ideas be based on a sound understanding of what current systems and programs offer. This was clearly not the case in the InformationWeek interview.

Kundra has earned his well-deserved reputation as a technology leader. It’s time for those of us in acquisition to show him how that technology is already being applied to the acquisition cycle and why using the IT schedule can take less than 18 minutes – not months — to complete a purchase.

Larry Allen is president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

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