GSA starts training to end misuse of schedules contracts

Task orders have become the primary means that agencies use to buy things, but procurement officers don't always understand the regulations, officials say.

The General Services Administration wants to train people who are using its contracts, because too many of them misuse the vehicles, a GSA official said today. Studies show the federal acquisition workforce is, in general, inexperienced, he added.

Steve Kempf, assistant commissioner for acquisition at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, said GSA knows that agencies’ acquisition employees are incorrectly issuing task orders on the Multiple Award Schedule program’s contracts and blanket purchase agreements (BPAs), which are under the same program.

“We know that there is a new acquisition workforce out there. Some of them haven’t been doing this very long. Some of them haven’t been trained really well. Some of them have forgotten the rules or just don’t know the rules,” Kempf said at the Coalition for Government Procurement’s Fall Conference in Arlington, Va.

Task orders have become the primary way agencies use to buy things, as procurement officers use GSA’s schedules and other multiple-award contracts frequently, officials agree. Kempf said schedules sales in fiscal 2009 hit $38 billion, an 8 percent increase from 2008.

Therefore, GSA is developing three classes for acquisition employees to help them learn how to use task order contracts, he said. First, GSA will start in-house by training its own contracting officers who are awarding schedules contracts.

“It’s very important that they understand a consistent approach to awarding schedules,” he said. The training will also deal with new regulations as well as how to use the new systems that GSA is rolling out.

GSA is also offering a “Schedule 101” class on how to buy from the schedules, and an advanced class on how to use schedules for complex orders, Kempf said. He said these classes are very important and long overdue. “We know there are problems out there.”

John Hutton, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, said today at the same conference that contracting officers have been misusing GSA’s Schedules blanket purchase agreements for several years.

The officers have failed to take advantage of discounts because they didn’t know they could ask for discounts. Hutton said GAO found no evidence that contracting officers requested discounts on 47 percent of 336 BPAs. But officers who asked received discounts from the vendors 75 percent of the time, he said.

Also agencies have failed to do their annual reviews on the BPAs. "We found that a number of contracting officers just lacked familiarity of the annual review requirement,” Hutton said.

GSA is trying to tell the acquisition employees about how to use the schedules correctly.

“We have a new acquisition community out there. If we can get to them and get them to understand how to effectively use the schedules how to use them well so they can get a great deal and how to efficiently use them, I think we’ll create a cadre of very strong, knowledgeable users,” Kempf said.

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