Buy Lines: 'Get It Right' is getting there, slowly but surely

Stan Soloway

The "Get It Right" program launched by Stephen Perry, administrator of the General Services Administration, is designed to instill greater discipline in the management of GSA's multiple-award schedules and governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs).

Get It Right is timely and will likely help obviate draconian legislative restrictions on GWACs.

GWACs and the schedules have changed the face of federal acquisition. They let agencies match their requirements to any of a wide array of contracts, often more quickly than otherwise would be possible.

GWACs also offer varied acquisition support services that reduce agency workloads. Properly managed, they are outstanding procurement tools.

It is true that the resulting profit-and-loss pressures on GSA contract owners has occasionally led to sloppy practices, and that more and better training is needed.

However, despite sometimes overwrought hyperbole from some quarters, such problems do not appear endemic and can be addressed with better internal guidance and management.

Get It Right is designed to clarify the rules and refocus government and industry on their core management responsibilities. It is on the right track, but concerns remain.

There is concern that the program could become a tool for post-hoc punitive actions, place unreasonable liabilities on companies and diminish the effectiveness and availability of GWACs.

To keep these from happening, GSA and the Defense Department should do several things.

First, remove the stigma from GSA contracts. Whatever analyses Defense personnel are required to conduct to determine whether to use a non-DOD contract also should apply to their use of internal DOD contracts.

These contracts should face the same customer pressures that GWACs face, be it in service fees, other charges or quality of service.

As is true for GWACs, if the defense contracts deliver for their customers, then the customers will be there. If not, their customers rightly will vote with their dollars. Smart, value-driven acquisition should be the goal across the government.

Second, rebalance GSA oversight, although this may be difficult in the politicized procurement environment. We already have seen questionable yet very public scope declarations based only on limited reviews, demands for audit access to information far beyond that which is either needed or provided for in law, and terms such as suspension and debarment used far too facilely.

Oversight and auditing are important but must be conducted within bounds. Failure to do so will have a chilling effect on the process.

Third, scrap plans to add to company performance reports the results of the contract scope reviews that GSA is conducting. GSA said the reviews are for gaining information, not for making after-the-fact judgments.

Thus, there is no fair reason to put this often complex and nuanced information into the source selection process, unless it involves consistent and blatant violations and has been fully and openly vetted with all stakeholders, including the company involved.

Finally, reinforce that contract scope determinations are an inherently governmental function.

Although companies need to recognize their business responsibility to raise questions when blatantly out-of-scope work is tasked, the legal authority for that determination properly lies with the government. Unfortunately, some in both government and industry have interpreted Get It Right as inappropriately shifting the responsibility for scope determinations to the private sector.

As Perry said, it is vitally important that we all Get It Right. Getting it right ultimately will hinge on balanced perspectives and greater clarity about the rules and GSA's initiatives.

Stan Soloway is president of the Professional Services Council; his e-mail is

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