Panel's conclusions should be the guide

Guest column

In a move in keeping with an administration's beginning, acting General Services Administration Administrator Jim Williams has convened an expert panel to evaluate the government's procurement processes.

Although the Multiple Award Schedule Advisory Panel is welcome news for an agency that recently has been better known for its public battles with several information technology vendors than for its efficient schedule system, one wonders what will happen to the panel's recommendations when a new administrator is appointed.

However, the implications are clear: GSA's schedules program needs overhauling, and the Obama administrator should not relegate the recommendations to a bottom drawer. To continue to be the go-to source for buying and selling, GSA must act.

Using the GSA schedules, government buyers can access more than 11 million supplies and services. And although the basics have remained virtually unchanged since 1949, the past 10 years have seen significant progress, with more schedules and a growing number of vendors, contracts and products. That growth has made the schedules program the ubiquitous choice for buyers and sellers looking for pre-competed contract vehicles.

However, those advances have recently come at a steep price for sellers: an increase in the legal and administrative burden and growing unpredictability.

Faced with a more arduous process, some sellers have gone elsewhere. Some contract vehicles, such as NASA's Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurement, have undergone a metamorphosis from niche contract services to direct competitors to the GSA schedules program. Here are three simple but significant changes GSA should undertake.

1. Simplify information requirements and standardize pricing negotiations. Historically, during

negotiations, GSA required a straightforward set of sales and pricing information. It focused on the percentage discount off list price relative to other similar products and services on the schedule and in commercial markets. Today, it requires significantly more information ? some of it sensitive ? from suppliers and their partners no matter who holds the schedule contract. That approach increases paperwork, costs and the liability for GSA and its partners.

2. Streamline the submission process. In the technology industry, software changes are dramatic and rapid. By the time a product is listed on a GSA schedule, it is often obsolete and has been replaced by a more efficient version.

The turnaround time for schedule listings must be faster and more efficient for the buyer and seller.

The government needs access to the latest and greatest products, and sellers deserve a more predictable turnaround period.

3. Provide greater predictability. The time required for submission approval and decision, information scrutiny, and data varies based on the schedule, the contract representative handling the listing and the GSA facility responsible for the relationship. Furthermore, many schedules are managed by multiple offices. Sellers are frustrated by the increasing disparities, and all parties would benefit from a predictable management process.

Unlike the situation in 1949, GSA is no longer the only game in town. To ensure that the agency remains the trusted marketplace, the incoming GSA administrator must get back to the basics of creating and supporting an efficient and stable buying and selling marketplace.

Peter Ostrow (postrow@technicalcommunities. com) is president and chief executive officer of Technical Communities Inc.

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