Schedule 70 tries to face down GWAC challenge

Although in volume terms, the General Services Administration’s Schedule 70 is the king of the government IT procurement castle, it has a number of serious competitors for agencies' purchasing attention. How well it competes against those other general and agency-specific indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity procurement vehicles will likely decide much of Schedule 70's future.

The main challenge comes from governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs), which are pre-competed, multiple-award IDIQ IT contracts run by various agencies through which buyers in those agencies, as well as those from other agencies, can get IT solutions and, critically, lower prices by pooling their purchases of products.

GWACs have exploded in popularity in recent years, spawning a run of colorful acronyms that now dot the government procurement landscape. NASA’s SEWP (Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement), the National Institutes of Health's CIO-SP (CIO—Solutions and Partners) and the Army’s ITES (IT Enterprise Solutions) are just a few. GSA has several of its own, such as Alliant (one each for large and small businesses) and the small-business set-aside 8(a) STARS II (Streamlined Technology Acquisition Resources for Services) contract.

The attraction of GWACs for many buyers and vendors is the focus they bring, versus a perceived lack of focus in Schedule 70.

"There is no other contract that has as many contractors as Schedule 70, that offers any and everything in the way of products and services, and this is managed by a relatively small group of people," said Alan Bechara, president of PCMG. "So by definition it lacks focus."

In contrast, most GWACs include a relatively small number of contractors that get substantially greater attention from people in the program office. That goes directly to what Bechara said are the two most important things for a successful procurement contract: It keeps products and prices current, and it quickly agrees to contract modifications.

On SEWP, Bechara said, his company submits modifications almost daily and gets them approved immediately. How can the Schedule 70 contracting shop be expected to provide that kind of service? he asked.

"Hence, that’s why these other contracts exist," he said. "They find a hole, and they fill it." This perception that Schedule 70 has gotten too big and too slow to keep up with the speed with which GWACs can offer and provide new IT products and services is obviously not lost on GSA officials. As part of her "A new day in IT Schedule 70" campaign that Kay Ely, director of GSA’s Office of IT Schedule Programs, began last year and which she detailed in an interview with FCW, the aim is "make it easier and faster to get needed technologies on the schedule [and also] to provide visibility into pricing and make sure that we are providing the best prices for our customers."

And, to be sure, Schedule 70 has its supporters. Most vendors will readily admit the differences between GWACs and Schedule 70 and there are some agencies that prefer doing their procurements through SEWP, but many also have a hard time working out just why that is so. Although there are many vendors such as PCMG that see the practical differences, many of those same vendors also say they use both contracts with equal ease.

The advantage of Schedule 70, in their eyes, is the broad range of solutions and services — many of them on the cutting edge, such as cloud computing — that the GSA contract offers. Both vendors and buyers can use them to provide either a very focused or a very broad approach to procurements, whichever fit the need.