BPAs can help agencies handle emergencies

Robert J. Sherry

The recent flurry of virus attacks incapacitated plenty of corporate and government information systems. Published reports noted that up to 80 percent of governmental systems around the world were affected by the ILOVEYOU and JOKES viruses that appeared early last month.

This isn't the first time agencies have faced these types of attacks. Last year's Melissa attack, though widely publicized, did less damage. Yet there is little urgency from either governments or large corporate users to prevent recurrences.

Some observers have suggested that the very robustness of applications, including antivirus software, is perpetuating the problem.

More important is whether your agency has the right contingency plans in place in case you need to quickly assemble resources'software and services'to defuse a virus attack or similarly incapacitating system problem.

Viruses wreck software. But other problems, such as fires, floods or earthquakes, might force you to acquire and deploy hardware quickly, without the usual procurement lead times.

Several remedies leap to mind. Many states maintain indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts from which they can quickly order products and services without formal advertising and competition. Consider whether your activity should have such contracts in place, assuming your laws and regulations permit them.

Another approach to unpredictable needs is to create blanket purchasing agreements. You can put these in place with a series of vendors in anticipation of your need to acquire IT products and services speedily but with varying quantities and timing.

Essentially, a BPA contains all of the terms and conditions necessary to buy a product or service, including pricing. Orders can be issued against BPAs as necessary, but the existence of the blanket agreement does not guarantee the contractor any business.

BPAs themselves are not actually contracts; the orders you place are the contracts.

You can even conduct prompt competitions using BPAs. Suppose an agency decides to buy notebook PCs. Each BPA holder receives an opportunity to quote on a model. Because terms and conditions are already established, low price can be the sole criterion if you've properly defined the other terms.

Jurisdictions typically place limitations on the use of BPAs. But if authorized, blanket agreements may let you fulfill user needs fast and with a minimum of fuss.

Robert J. Sherry is a partner in the law firm of McKenna & Cuneo LLP. He heads the government contracts practice in the firm's San Francisco office, counseling information technology companies on federal, state and local issues.


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