OMB: Leave brand names out of it

An agency looking to buy, say, PCs with 3-GHz, 800-MHz-front-side-bus processors has to say so in its solicitation. It can't just say 'Pentium 4,' unless it has a written justification posted on the Web, according to a new memo from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

After receiving industry complaints, the administration is clamping down on how departments list particular products in solicitations.

Starting immediately, contracting officers must post their explanations for asking for brand-name products on Fedbizopps.gov, OFPP ad- ministrator David Safavian and Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget's IT and e-government administrator, said in a memo to agency CIOs, chief acquisition officers and senior procurement executives.

'This is about fairness and efficiency,' Safavian said. 'The acquisition workforce is overwhelmed with work.

Sometimes a brand name is shorthand for the type of product the agency needs.'

Safavian said the habit is similar to going to a restaurant and asking for a Coke when wanting a cola, or asking for a Kleenex when needing a tissue. But naming a brand name is against the Federal Acquisition Regulation and administration officials said there were enough instances that a policy reminder and mandate of listing written justifications on the Web was necessary.

'The feeling of the Chief Acquisition Officers Council was this is a systemic problem,' said Robert Burton, deputy OFPP administrator. 'The memo will refer agencies back to the FAR rules and reinforce the need to comply with them.'

Get it in writing

Agencies must post the written justifications for all procurements, including simplified acquisitions, General Services Administration schedule and governmentwide acquisition contract purchases and sole-source buys. Contracting officers do not have to post the justification on the Web if it would compromise national security, trade secrets or similar concerns, the memo said. But agencies would have to send a written notice to OFPP.

The memo mentions two instances where this practice is rampant: when agencies buy computers and ask for specific microprocessors or when they buy office supplies.

In fact, a search for Intel Pentium on FedBizOpps.gov yields more than 109,000 instances of agencies asking for that brand.

Chuck Mulloy, an Intel Corp. spokesman, declined to comment on the memo, but said, 'we are unaware of any conflicts as a result of the government specification process.'

Officials at Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., an Intel competitor, said the memo will help promote competition.

'This is a good way to address a long-standing problem,' said Steve Kester, AMD's manager for government relations. 'By specifying performance instead of a brand name, agencies will have more choices.'

Instead of a specific brand name, officials want contracting officers to:
  • Articulate a benchmark for performance

  • Specify the requirements for applications and interoperability.

'Consistent with the requirements of OMB Circular A-119, agencies should use voluntary consensus standards to help define the performance requirements,' the memo noted.

Alan Chvotkin, senior vice president for the Professional Services Council of Arlington, Va., said specifying a brand name gives that vendor an advantage. 'Agencies have to have a clear understanding of the salient characteristics they are looking for and not just the shorthand brand name,' he said.

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