OMB bars new desktop, laptop contracts

The White House is pushing a plan to restrict the buying of office computers to a few key contracts to keep prices down.

room of computers

White House IT chiefs are cracking down on pricey hardware. In a memo to federal IT managers, U.S. CIO Tony Scott and Anne Rung, chief acquisition officer at the Office of Management and Budget, announced that they are putting an end to uncoordinated, localized laptop and desktop acquisition practices that blunt the buying power of the federal government.

"Laptop prices can range from about $450 to $1,300 for the same configuration, which is a price variance of almost 300 percent," they wrote. "But agencies lack visibility into prices paid and therefore can't use that information to negotiate the lowest price."

Scott and Rung told managers to reduce the number of laptop and desktop computer contracts by eliminating new contract awards and "limiting purchasing to a small number of high-performance, or best-in-class, contracts."

OMB is prohibiting agencies from issuing new solicitations for common laptops and desktops and directing civilian agencies to transition their expenses for those devices to three existing best-value governmentwide acquisition vehicles. In addition, CIOs are now required to ensure that 80 percent of their new laptops and desktops conform to one of the standard configurations.

Winnowing down the variety of PC contracts has been an OMB goal for some time. Last summer, under the category management initiative, three leading acquisition vehicles set five baseline configurations -- two for laptops and three for desktops -- and sent inquiries to vendors that might be interested in using the baseline configurations.

In the Oct. 16 directive, Scott and Rung told agencies to standardize laptop and desktop configurations for common requirements and to develop and modify demand management and business practices to optimize price and performance.

To keep up with advancing needs, OMB said a NASA-led interagency working group would refresh the standard configurations every six months and evaluate emerging technologies, such as tablets and virtual infrastructure. Information on contract terms and conditions, pricing, and other tools will be shared on GSA's Acquisition Gateway.

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