Buy Lines: To the administrator: SEWP isn't spoiled

Dear Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator: Don't change a good thing.

We've all read about your "agonizing" pending decision regarding governmentwide acquisition contract authority for the NASA Scientific and Engineering Work Station program.

We know the position of Lurita Doan, administrator of the General Services Administration. She adamantly opposes recertifying SEWP as a governmentwide acquisition contract.

Here's an industry point of view from someone whose company also has responded to the SEWP IV solicitation, a full-and-open competition procurement, now in the blackout phase.

Many of us are puzzled as to why the SEWP debate has become an either/or decision. Marty Wagner, deputy commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service. described the schedules program as the crown jewel of GSA. I couldn't agree more.

Schedules, as a government source of supply, trump other commercial sources such as agency indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts. Schedules have higher interagency contracting authority than IDIQ contracts, regardless of whether the IDIQ contract is operating across agencies under authority of a GWAC or the Economy Act. Thus, from a statutory authority perspective, GSA's picking on SEWP is like Goliath picking on David.

So why has GSA failed to leverage more fully the unique power of its schedules program to give agencies easier, more direct ways to buy products and services? Is GSA is still hoping to rebuild its assisted services business?

Ever since the appropriators and oversight community became focused on fiscal law enforcement, there are precious few reasons for an agency to send money to GSA. It takes less time to place an order directly with a contractor holding a GSA schedule contract.

The Office of Federal Procurement Policy should urge GSA to dust off its crown jewel and give it the pre-eminent position it deserves. Direct order and direct invoice are the future.

GSA had it right in the mid-1990s when it promoted schedule contracts and schedule-based blanket purchase agreements as streamlined vehicles for products and services, both commodity and complex. Back then, schedule-based blanket purchase agreements displaced many agency IDIQ programs because, even for strategic sourcing, they can be structured to work better on many levels than a multiple-award IDIQ contract.

Use the concerns over interagency contracting and vehicle proliferation to examine those agency IDIQ programs that don't have GWAC authority. Many multiagency contracts quietly operate under the Economy Act, seemingly oblivious to the legal significance of the strict determination and finding that the act requires for each order.

Herein lies GSA's opportunity to reinvent itself for the next 10 to 15 years. GSA must get organized to compete aggressively against agency IDIQ contracting programs by offering schedule-based contracting solutions across all commodity categories, not just IT.

Furthermore, it needs to improve dramatically its eTools and facilitate direct contractor interfaces with agency procurement systems for online procurement and back-end reporting.

Trying to regain revenue by obstructing SEWP is a mistake. SEWP is a successful program by any measure, and it has been a godsend at times when GSA couldn't keep its contracts current. It has operated properly and successfully as a GWAC within the authority granted by Congress in 1996 under the Clinger-Cohen Act. It deserves to continue under this authority, just as GSA and its schedules program deserve to continue under the authority of the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949 (as amended). May the best vehicle win, order by order.

Steve Charles is co-founder of immixGroup, a government business-consulting firm in McLean, Va. E-mail him at Steve_Charles@immixgroup.com. immixGroup ranks No. 65 on the Washington Technology 2006 Top 100.

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