Neal Fox | Contracting in perspective: Door opens for non-GSA deals

GSA has created a crisis of confidence in the agency as the master of procurement

Neal Fox

Contracting via government- or agency-wide buying vehicles is running a bit wild. As more agencies plan their own vehicles, GSA's historic near monopoly is threatened. Over the past two years the Defense Department has launched Seaport-e, ITES and Netcents. DHS launched Eagle, NASA announced SEWP IV, and NIH wants an ECS IV.

The fundamental question is why agencies are pursuing so many non-GSA contracts. In a nutshell, GSA has created a crisis of confidence in the agency as the master of procurement.

First, GSA's Federal Technology Service engaged in some questionable acquisitions and used the wrong vehicles to expedite purchases. Second, GSA egged itself by 'parking' several billion dollars of expired DOD acquisition funds. GSA was forced to admit it lacked the authority to extend the life of those expiring funds. This one-two punch opened the door to more decentralized governmentwide procurement.

While use of GSA self-service schedules remains steady, demand for assisted services has fallen 40 percent. GSA is suffering financially as a result.

Out the window

Before the abuses were uncovered, GSA assisted services had three value components for customer agencies: extension of expiring funds, fast procurements, and a contracting officer if an agency needed one. Only one remains. Special authority to extend expiring funds went out the window, while fast procurements evaporated thanks to the so-called Get it Right campaign. For agencies lacking contracting personnel, GSA assisted services is still a good option.

The door is widening for non-GSA contracting approaches. Even strategic sourcing, which should be a GSA domain, will be filled by other providers such as GovWorks and FedBid Inc. At least many sales through these providers would still be through the GSA Schedules.

Neal Fox is the former assistant commissioner for commercial acquisition at GSA's Federal Supply Service, and is principal at Neal Fox Consulting (email: nfox@usa.com) This abridged column is the first in the ongoing series 'Contracting in Perspective,' which now appears on GCN.com (GCN.com/554).

About the Author

Neil Fox is the former assistant commissioner for commercial acquisition at GSA's Federal Supply Service, and is now principal at Neal Fox Consulting.

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