Last year's Clinger-Cohen procurement reform legislation has made it easier and quicker for government officials to buy information technology. But it has also spawned aggressiveness on the part of some agency officials, who are promoting their contracts and possibly cutting corners to attract business to their contracts, said Steve Kelman, administrator of the office of federal procurement policy at the OMB.
The guidelines are designed to clamp down on agencies with large governmentwide contracts to ensure that they do not create de facto purchasing organizations that compete unfairly with each other and GSA for federal information technology dollars, government and industry officials say.
Governmentwide contracts allow any agency to buy products and services using another agency's contract. The agency that holds the contract charges a fee ranging from half a percent to 3 percent for the use of its contract. The guidelines also will address GSA, which does not have the same requirements for awarding task orders through its schedules as the agencies do with their contracts.
Kelman, who is overseeing the effort to write the guidelines, said he expects all agencies to follow the voluntary guidelines, which put the onus on officials running the governmentwide contract to ensure that their agency is following federal procurement regulations.
"Basically competition is a good thing, but just like in the commercial marketplace, competition works best within certain rules," Kelman said in a recent interview.
Kelman said he is particularly concerned about agencies' compliance with rules governing competition for task orders.
Most task orders must be open for what is called "fair opportunity for consideration," so that all the winners of a contract can compete to win the task order. The time period for the competitions can vary.
An agency that is lax in enforcing the rules will attract more business to its contract because the agency looking to buy can
buy more quickly and direct
work to a particular contractor, Kelman said.
"The agency might turn a blind eye to [requirements] and be tempted to do things to win business that are not in the public interest just to try and get other agencies to use their contracts," Kelman said.
The Professional Services Council, a Vienna, Va.-based association of service contractors, voiced concerns to Kelman last year about how agencies administer directed task orders, said the group's executive director Bert Concklin. The industry-backed group also expressed concern about inconsistent requirements for task order proposals, and problems related to recovering costs of task order competitions.
"At this stage there are small individual problems but we are trying to address them now before they become larger," Concklin said.
His group along with the Information Technology Association of America, Arlington, Va., and the Electronic Industries Association, Arlington, Va., are supporting Kelman's efforts but they have not seen a draft of the guidelines, he said.
Concklin said he hopes the guidelines do not turn back the benefits of reform. "In general, procurement reform has been a major triumph," he said.
Part of the problem is that the industry and the government are still adapting to the changes wrought by reform, Concklin said.
"There has been a quantum change in the nature of IT procurement across the federal government," he said.
One sign that the system is in need of some controls is the number of information technology contracts issued by agencies, said Robert Dornan, senior vice president of the research firm Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va.
Federal Sources estimates that agencies have awarded contracts totaling $60 billion over a two- to three-year period, which is several billion higher than what the government is expected to spend, he said.
Some reining in of the contracts will be welcomed by industry, Dornan said.
"Everybody I talk to is exhausted trying to identify, track down, win and then manage these vehicles," he said.