Is GSA gunning for other GWACs?

Blogger Steve Kelman argues that the federal government is better off having GSA compete with other agencies for acquisition business.

Joanne Woytek, the head of the NASA Scientific and Engineering Workstation Products governmentwide acquisition contract, wrote on my Facebook wall – wow, what a way to communicate this message! -- that an official from the General Services Administration (not Administrator Martha Johnson) plans to meet next week with Dan Gordon, administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, to request that Gordon deauthorize the governmentwide Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners contract run by the National Institutes of Health.

Woytek believes that if CIOSP is put out of business, GSA’s next step will be to put SEWP out of business as well.

I am a big fan of GSA and its own governmentwide vehicles, including the schedules, but I strongly believe GSA’s effort to put competing governmentwide contracts out of business is seriously mistaken.

The basic reason is simple: Competition among contract vehicles (including the default alternative of using one’s own contract shop) promotes customer service and innovation, just like competition in other markets. When GSA last monopolized governmentwide vehicles, up through the early 1990s, it provided poor customer service, poor pricing and little innovation. GSA’s loss of its monopoly during the Clinton administration was actually the best thing that ever happened to the agency – they came up with new contract vehicles, much faster service, and other innovations and in the process ended up doing much more business than before.

In the current marketplace, competing vehicles such as CIOSP and SEWP provide good alternatives for government customers. CIOSP has pioneered use of reverse auctions as a second-stage pricing device to keep prices refreshed in real time. (Full disclosure: I serve on the Board of Advisors of Fedbid, which provides reverse auction services for CIOSP.)

And SEWP fills all orders within a day, quickly updates with new products and provides an especially good source for engineering-related information technology. Both CIOSP and SEWP have lower fees than GSA.

I believe that all of these GWAC’s should do more than they do to provide (for a fee) assistance to customers beyond just executing a transaction, but this is very unlikely to happen in a monopoly environment.

There is of course a tradeoff between leveraging buying power and allowing the proliferation of vehicles. But it’s not as if most of the GSA contracts do such a great job getting good prices for the government. To do that, you need to negotiate volume commitments using one of these vehicles as a base.

GSA should be careful about what it asks for. Many of those who would welcome shutting down CIOSP or SEWP don’t like any kinds of GWAC’s, including those that GSA runs. These people don’t like fees, and they don’t like competition for the in-house contracting shop.

Let GSA win by providing better service and better prices to its customers, not by forcing its competitors out of business.