Education limits PC buys to Dell, Compaq brands

Although the Education Department is limiting PC and server buys to Compaq Computer
Corp. and Dell Computer Corp. brands, it has drawn no flak about whether it's restricting
competition, Education officials said.


In an August letter, chief information officer Don Rappaport announced a decision by
the department's Information Technology Investment Review Board to adopt what he termed a
standards approach.


Rappaport's letter declared Microsoft Windows 95 the standard PC operating system and
Compaq and Dell PCs the only computers that will receive free, central support from the
department's systems staff.


"It's not because of any problems with other vendors," said Steven Corey-Bey,
director of special programs in the Office of the CIO. "We like dealing with Dell and
Compaq and prefer a homogenized environment. We've got every damned computer" from
many vendors now.


The department's Product Support Plan Decision, posted on the World Wide Web at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OCIO/it/itim4.html,
said free, central support will end Jan. 1, 1999, for systems deemed nonstandard.


Bureaus must make a business case for buying other brands and must pay for their
technical support.


Asked whether that policy adheres to the Federal Acquisition Regulation, procurement
consultant Terry Miller said, "The odds of agencies like Education playing by the
rules are slim."


Miller, president of Government Sales Consultants Inc. of Great Falls, Va., said that
if Education officials wanted to standardize on a particular vendor's products, they could
do it in three ways without violating the FAR.


The department could issue a request for proposals that the vendors won, specify a
standard only the vendors could meet or make sole-source buys backed up by published
research, he said.


Education officials can establish particular PC brands as standard under the
Information Technology Management Reform Act if they back up the decision with appropriate
metrics, said procurement lawyer Joseph J. Petrillo, a GCN columnist.


But Petrillo said he knows of no agencies that have such metrics. "There's really
no incentive," he said. "Once you develop the metrics, then you're judged by
them."


Meanwhile, technical support officials have had their attention diverted from such
technology investment decisions by the year 2000 date code problem, Petrillo said.


It is not mandatory for Education users to buy only the two brands, said Renaldo
Harper, director of the department's Technical Services Group and main architect of the
Product Support Plan Decision. Harper said he was not aware of any PCs or servers bought
since August from other suppliers, however.


Almost all the department's servers are Compaqs, and as many as 90 percent of the PCs
bought before August were from Compaq or Dell, Harper said. They "are our preferred
manufacturers, and they are standard in the sense that they are accepted with the CIO's
approval," he said.


"To me, that's coercion," said Stephen M. Ryan, another procurement lawyer
and GCN columnist.


Education contracting officers have until January to make the transition to the Dell
and Compaq products. Despite the deadline, however, they are still buying from other
vendors.


The department buys many PC products from General Services Administration schedule and
indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts, according to market researcher from
Input of Vienna, Va.


"We continue to see business from Education," said Jim Connal, federal sales
manager for Gateway 2000 Inc. "It's not a carved-in-stone decision."


But the restrictions are difficult for small vendors to fight, said Roland Hua, vice
president of corporate development at SMAC Data Systems of Gaithersburg, Md.


"It's the public's money, not the procurement officer's money," Hua said.


The Information Technology Investment Review Board plans to revisit the decision from
time to time and consider placing other vendors' products on the approved support plan,
Harper said. All added products "would have to fulfill some requirement that the
standard does not," he said.


The year 2000 situation has made the department change its PC lifecycle plan, he said.
Previously, Education officials had planned to replace one-third of desktop PC systems
each year, but they have abandoned that for the time being as they work toward a September
goal of making all PCs 2000-ready.


In the six months preceding the August support announcement, Harper said, Education
officials informed headquarters users through briefings and held a teleconference for
branch office personnel.


"We did a considerable amount of technical and economic analysis" before the
decision, he said.


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