Buy Lines | Untying a knot in the acquisition lexicon
- By Steve Charles
- Jul 07, 2006
Steve Charles is a co-founder of immixGroup Inc., a government business-consulting firm in McLean, Va. E-mail him at Steve_Charles@immixgroup.com.
People in government and industry continue to confuse "assisted acquisition" with "direct acquisition" when talking about how purchase requests for items available under pre-negotiated contracts become purchase orders. This matters more with the approach of the government's heavy buying season, and timeliness becomes the primary concern.
An oft-forgotten principle since procurement reform of the mid-1990s is that agencies are prohibited from buying and selling to other agencies, except when granted explicit authority by Congress. This means knowing under which legal authority a procurement is operating.
Let's look at contracts that agencies use when ordering directly from contractors.
In direct acquisition, Agency X sends an order directly to a prime contractor that holds a contract managed by Agency Y. For purposes of interagency contracting, these contacts fall into one of three categories. First is an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, such as the Air Force Network Centric Solutions contract, set up primarily for one agency but willing under the authority of the Economy Act of 1934 to accommodate requirements from other agencies.
Second are IDIQ contracts with special governmentwide acquisition authority allowed for IT contracts only under the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996.
The third, the granddaddy of governmentwide vehicles, is the General Services Administration multiple award schedule contracts covering all commodities under the authority of the Federal Property and Administrative Services Act of 1949.
Because each of these interagency contract vehicles has a different legal authority, each requires slightly different ordering procedures and approvals.
The GSA Schedule remains the easiest for all agencies to reference, followed by the GWACs (limited to IT), then the agency-specific contracts used under the most restrictive requirements of the Economy Act.
In assisted acquisition, Agency X hires Agency Y to perform contracting activities on its behalf. For Agency Y to perform the acquisition activities, it must get paid, and money from Agency X must move into an account at Agency Y. Agencies can move money only under explicit authority granted by Congress, and after it's moved, it must be spent for what Congress intended, in the year in which Congress intended. As with interagency contracting, assisted acquisition is government by laws that are the exception to the rule.
In assisted acquisition, the authority used most frequently is the Franchise Fund authority granted to the Office of Management and Budget under the Government Management Reform Act of 1994. OMB designated franchise fund pilots at six agencies: the Commerce, Health and Human Services, Interior, Treasury and Veterans Affairs departments and the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency most active in providing assisted acquisition services under this authority is Interior's GovWorks program, operating with the department's National Business Center.
Unlike at some other assisting agencies where procurements languish, GovWorks takes a proactive approach to identifying acquisition package problems early in the process.
Classic acquisition problems, such as lack of a market survey, a best-value analysis comparison across three different brands, a government price estimate, a fully substantiated sole-source justification and proper funding, are addressed up front so processing of procurements isn't slowed by lack of required information.
This is a multifaceted challenge because, depending on which contracting method or vehicle they choose, assisting agencies have certain financial processes they must follow, in addition to those of the different contracting rules.
We on the industry side need to understand what these assisted acquistion services need from requesting agencies. All too often, our customers ask us about the process, which means our customer could lose its funds, and we could lose a deal we've promised to our management.
Steve Charles is a co-founder of immixGroup, which helps technology companies do business with government. He is a frequent speaker and lecturer on technology and the federal procurement process. He can be reached at Steve_Charles@immixgroup.com or connect with him on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/stcharles.