Here's the thing: You can only streamline IT acquisitions so far

Like many innovations, it is a variation on a theme. In this case the theme is based on
the blanket purchasing agreements that agencies can negotiate with the holders of
Multiple-Award Schedule contracts. To appreciate the incredible reach and simplicity of
the new scheme, a brief digression into BPAs is necessary.

The new deal goes something like this: GSA announces a competition to satisfy the
requirements of the Competition in Contracting Act, except that the bidders compete
against themselves rather than against each other. That's because lots of contracts are
awarded that are essentially economically worthless. (How much effort would you expend to
win a contract with a $100 guarantee? Would you really lower your price?)

Well, the contractors are smart. They really don't compete very hard, especially
against themselves. GSA is smart, too. It only does this so that the acquisition can
bypass the requirement for competition and get to the second level, the BPA.

Now, the BPA is not really a contract and, unlike the $100 indefinite-delivery,
indefinite-quantity schedule contract, doesn't even pretend to be one. What it pretends to
be is another competition so that vendors can have the opportunity to cut their prices.
(Don't worry, the vendors don't get suddenly stupid after being smart for so long).

As you might guess, the government has figured out that BPAs don't work either, so
enter the World Wide Universal Contract for All Information Technology, or WWUCAIT. (Do
not stop reading to try to pronounce that acronym).

It's simple, really. The contract is for the world's total output of information
technology. That's exactly what the contract says: "This contract is for all the
world's computer stuff. Period."

For this contract, the government reserves the right to unorder all but $112.38.
Because downsizing is the order of the day in the re-engineering biz, the government
obligates $112.38 of the $83 skabillion potential liability.

The unordering officer's job is to unorder just in time to avoid taking delivery and
paying for the IT output. The contractor's-there only needs to be one-job is to distract
the unordering officer into forgetting to unorder.

The contractor accomplishes this by placing links on the its World Wide Web site that
all start with some variation of "Click here to Unorder." So much for procedure.

The beauty of the system is that it lets all sides declare total victory. Think about

As Jack B. Stalk, chief information officer of the Federal Trading Agency put it,
"We buy enough of those suckers, and they pay us to take 'em." That would be
your economy-of-scale rationale.

G.L. Ocks, vice chairwoman of the Federal Comparative Shopping Commission, added,
"Our choices are many. With hope, the ones we make will be just right."

Echoing Ocks, Mike Angelo, systems engineer and all-around smart guy, said. "The
greatest systems in the world have been bought by that contract. Our job is to carve away
everything that isn't a great system."

Support for the WWUCAIT has come from an unexpected quarter, no less then the
comptroller general himself.

In prepared remarks before the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Auditors, the comptroller general announced the most radical re-engineering effort in this
or any millennium.

"We've weighed the process of purchasing IT in the balance and found it wanting.
We believe that if the performance problems were identified by our auditors before they
occurred, vast savings could be realized for which we could take credit," he said.
"Therefore, I am ordering precontract performance audits that will immediately
precede the unordering officer's decision on what to unorder. Since these are the only
audits the contract will need, no post-award reviews will be conducted, thus saving even
more money."

Is this a great country, or what?

Bob Little, an attorney who has worked for the General Accounting Office and a
Washington law firm, teaches federal contract law.

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