Agencies Spar Over New GSA Schedule

Agencies Spar Over New GSA Schedule

By Nick Wakeman
Staff Writer

Negotiations have broken down between the General Services Administration and the Small Business Administration over how to protect small businesses on the consolidated GSA schedule.

GSA had originally planned to release a solicitation for the consolidated schedule by the end of 1997. It would pull together four schedules that carry communications, mainframe computers, PCs, related equipment and services or nearly all of GSA's information technology offerings. About $3 billion in annual sales are expected on the consolidated schedule, beginning in 1999.

GSA Commissioner David Barram

SBA filed an appeal Feb. 26 with GSA Commissioner David Barram, seeking more consideration for 8(a)s and other small businesses on the GSA schedule, SBA officials said. Barram has 30 days to respond.

The release of a solicitation for the consolidated schedule is already at least two months behind as SBA has tried to extract some concessions from GSA that would guarantee small businesses more work on the schedule. The solicitation is a notice for companies to apply to participate on the schedule.

Informal negotiations have been going on for several months between Bill Gormley, assistant commissioner for acquisition at GSA's Federal Supply Service, and Judith Roussel, SBA's associate administrator for government contracting.

Making sure small business gets a share of the GSA schedule is important, she said. "Just look at the magnitude of this schedule," she said.

The final decision now falls to Barram, SBA officials said. Neither Barram nor Gormley could be reached for comment on the appeal.

SBA's concern with the consolidated schedule is that it will give large companies an unfair advantage because agencies could get everything they need from a single vendor through a single schedule, Roussel said. And it is unlikely that single vendor would be a small business, she said.

But Gormley's position has been that GSA does not have the authority to build small-business protections into the schedule, industry and government officials said.

Roussel said she proposed that GSA create a separate schedule of certain IT products and services where small businesses are particularly strong, she said. Only small businesses should be allowed on this schedule, she said.

Rodney P. Hunt, president of RS Information Systems Inc.

The SBA also proposed that ordering instructions for agencies include language that "encourages" agencies to consider small businesses when looking to buy off the schedule, Roussel said.

Small businesses will be left behind "unless we make a concerted effort to craft a strategy," Roussel said.

Consolidation of the GSA schedule is part of a larger problem facing small businesses, said Rodney P. Hunt, president of RS Information Systems Inc., a McLean, Va.-based 8(a), which provides IT engineering support.

"The whole concept of governmentwide contracts has been a major blow to SBA's 8(a) program," he said. This is because such contracts make it harder to compete with larger companies with more marketing muscle and resources.

"But SBA has to take a hit for this too," he said. The agency's procedures need to be streamlined so 8(a)s can process contracts as quickly as non-8(a) companies, Hunt said.

Getting the requisite SBA sign-off on 8(a) contracts can add weeks to the contract award process, he said. "They should not be in the contracting business," he said.

But for some small businesses a consolidated schedule is not viewed as a threat.

"Small companies are able to make adjustments a lot quicker than large companies," said David Steward, president of World Wide Technology Inc. in St. Louis. Steward's company is an 8(a) firm that provides imaging and work flow management, networking and telecommunications to the government.

Bill Gormley, assistant commissioner for acquisition at GSA's Federal Supply Service

"I believe in the entrepreneurial spirit," he said. "Whatever happens, we will be able to adjust."

Merging the schedules is a good idea, but GSA has to keep the playing field level, said Frank Caruso, director of contracts for Force 3, an 8(a) based in Crofton, Md., that provides networking solutions.

Helping small businesses get access to agency buyers is where GSA can provide the most help, Caruso said. "GSA has to make sure that the big players don't get all of the advantages," he said.

Delays in getting out the new schedule will hurt the GSA schedule business for both large and small companies, said Larry Allen, executive director of the Coalition for Government Procurement in Washington. The coalition represents about 300 companies that sell goods and services to the government.

Because schedule 70 I, B&C, which covers mainframes and PCs and related items, expires in March 1999, companies are running into difficulties negotiating blanket purchase agreements that extend beyond that date, Allen said.

If the schedule is not in place for an agency to use, it will turn to other contract vehicles, Allen said. "GSA has to get a solicitation on the street," he said.

Schedules GSA Proposes Consolidating
Schedule 58 III B - communications equipment

Schedule 58 V A - telecommunications, automated data processing, commercial telecommunications services
Schedule 58 IX - telecommunications equipment
Schedule 70 I B&C - mainframes, computers, equipment, electronic commerce
Source: GSA
SBA's concerns that small businesses will not be able to compete are overblown, Allen said. Many agencies require small-business participation on contracts over $500,000.

Also, even the largest companies cannot provide everything an agency needs, so there is always a market for small-business subcontractors, Allen said.

"Many larger contractors have to have small businesses to provide niche services," he said.

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