Bullish on reforms

Change usually results in
someone’s ox getting gored.

For the information technology community, procurement reform is like wave after wave of
stampeding bulls—with horns. Picture the Merrill Lynch TV ads from the late

The latest howling comes from vendors on the General Services Administration’s
Financial Management System Software Schedule. GSA wants to fold the mandatory contracts
into the great unwashed masses of regular, nonmandatory IT Schedule contracts. The plan to
collapse FMSS into the IT Schedule comes at the behest of the Chief Financial Officers
Council and other oversight groups.

As has become fashionable these days, some FMSS vendors formed a coalition to fight the
change. The coalition sent letters to Vice President Gore and lawmakers arguing that FMSS
contract management should not shift from GSA’s Federal Technology Service to its
Federal Supply Service. But there’s no indication so far that anyone will intervene
on the coalition’s behalf.

From the vendors’ statements, it seems clear they don’t welcome the
competition or agencies being able to pick and choose among more products and services [GCN, August 10, Page 80].

Vendors have a point when they object to ground rule changes. For example, they rightly
protest when award decisions are made on criteria other than those spelled out in a
request for proposals.

The FMSS dispute goes deeper, though. Fundamentally, it’s a case in which the
safety—and nearly guaranteed business—of a highly regulated, process-oriented
environment collides with the trend toward giving federal managers more buying discretion.

Many vendors built their business models around the old-style procurement process, and
not all have made the transition to the reformed process with equal success. But the FMSS
contractors will have a year of grace, until September 1999, to adapt. Judging from the
contract wins of at least one vendor of financial software that’s only on the regular
GSA schedule, being an FMSS vendor is not a requirement for success in the federal
financial systems market.

If the consolidation goes ahead as planned, the FMSS contractors will have to deal with
new marketing challenges. And agencies, with more buying freedom, will have the
responsibility of building financial systems that are interoperable and conform to federal

Thomas R. Temin

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