Unsettled market

In one of the color flyers in my Sunday newspaper a couple of
weeks ago, Page 4 showed a Hewlett-Packard Deskjet 600C printer for $249. On Page 9 of the
same flyer, the same printer was $239. These days you never know when you're getting the
best deal.

The incident--symptomatic of the craziness of the PC market--somehow reminded me of the
General Services Administration and how much energy it's putting into promoting the
""new'' Multiple-Award Schedule for PC hardware and software, now administered
by GSA's Federal Supply Service. FSS even commissioned a video program to show feds how
easy it is to buy through the newly overhauled MAS.

At a GCN Forum luncheon this month in Washington, Linda Hauenstein, director of the FSS
Commercial Acquisition Policy Division, said, ""I can't see where it would be
advantageous not to use'' the MAS contracts. But, strangely, the new lean and mean
schedules come at a time when big indefinite-delivery,indefinite-quantity contracts are
sprouting up everywhere.

GSA clearly is trying a preemptive strike to prevent agencies from doing their own
IDIQs. Nevertheless, lots of big IDIQs are coming down the chute. There's NASA SEWP II at
$825 million, SSA's Intelligent Workstation/LAN buy at $1 billion, and DISA's Defense
Enterprise Integration Services II at $2.5 billion, to name just three. And don't forget
Desktop V. Apparently, agencies still don't wholly trust the MAS to have the best deal.

Fact is, while GSA is complying with the law, it also is fighting for its life. As far
as IT acquisition is concerned, the MAS is just about GSA's only remaining role.

Moreover, after June 1 the MAS will labor under the 1 percent industrial funding
surcharge on computer buys. The costs of IDIQs often aren't passed along to buyers via
such surcharges. Will that 1 percent deter buyers? Given the thousands of possible machine
configurations, it may be difficult to detect. If not, then other factors will determine
whether the MAS works--factors such as vendor interest, degree of administrative hassle,
and currency of products offered.

As in that newspaper flyer, we can expect some confusion in the marketplace for a
while, with no single vehicle emerging as the way to buy.

And there's another burning question for GSA: Can you order the cables on the same
requisition as the computer and the printer?

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