Air Force lifts ban and issues policy on BPAs

The Air Force recently lifted a six-month ban on creating new blanket purchasing
agreements and issued a policy statement on the agreements.

Concerned about the unregulated growth of BPAs on General Services Administration
Federal Supply Schedules, the Air Force in October 1997 banned the creation of new BPAs
until an integrated product team could study the issue. The policy is based on a series of
team meetings held in December.

The team arrived at three conclusions:

Defense Department procurement director Eleanor Spector in March 1997 urged the
services and Defense agencies to take full advantage of the GSA schedules for hardware,
software and support services.

In response, the Electronic Systems Center at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., unveiled
plans in August 1997 to issue BPAs next year worth $1 billion for information technology
support services.

The Air Force suspended efforts within the service to establish new BPAs so it could
weigh the pros and cons of the agreements, including ESC’s Information Technology
Service Program.

“We applaud GSA’s efforts to simplify the acquisition process and cut
contracting lead time,” said an Oct. 24 memorandum from the Office of the Assistant
Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition’s Contracting Division.

“However, recent attempts within the Air Force to use these new procedures for
agencywide, decentralized ordering of supplies and services, or for high-dollar, complex
support services, have raised some difficult policy issues,” the memo said.

The Air Force was concerned that using BPAs to acquire complex services might not
result in the best deal for the government and taxpayers. So the policy team developed
guidelines for acquiring expensive technical support services and other procurements.

“The decision to use the FSS BPAs should result from an integrated acquisition
strategy taking into account all aspects of the acquisition,” said Brig. Gen. Frank
Anderson, the Air Force’s deputy assistant secretary for contracting. It also should
include standardization and interoperability of IT acquisitions, the evolving requirements
of technical support services, the overall acquisition costs of a product, and
establishing and maintaining a competitive environment, he said.

“Sound business judgment and competition is the foundation of the Air Force’s
policy on the use of the FSS,” Anderson said.

The Air Force shared SBA’s concern about the current and potentially adverse
impact that BPAs may have on the 8(a) program and set-asides for small, disadvantaged
businesses, service officials said. But the Air Force IPT has put in safeguards to protect
8(a) vendors.

“In addition to competition, your acquisition strategy must promote opportunities
for small, small disadvantaged and woman-owned businesses,” Anderson said.
“Buying activities must be aware of their socioeconomic goals and performance, and be
proactive in their market research of FSS suppliers.”

Anderson said that buying orders issued under BPAs must be reviewed on a quarterly
basis to ensure that planned socioeconomic goals are being met.  

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