Most say sole-sourcing is not a big problem

Most say sole-sourcing is not a big problem

By Richard W. Walker

Is the use of sole-source task orders a widespread practice in federal contracting? Not according to a GCN survey of procurement or purchasing managers.

About 75 percent of those contacted said they didn't see sole-sourcing as a big problem.

'Most people make an effort to get the lowest price,' said a Defense Department information technology product manager.

'It's illegal, but most federal procurement officials are quite honest, so it's not a problem at all,' an Army buyer in Pennsylvania said.

While agreeing that it's not pervasive, one Interior Department computer specialist conceded that sole-sourcing is 'used in certain situations.'

Some feds said the practical drawbacks of sole-sourcing make it an unattractive option.

'It doesn't allow the customer to see all that's being offered,' a buyer in Virginia said.

'You limit yourself,' added a State Department computer specialist.

Among the 25 percent of buyers who considered sole-sourcing to be a problem, a Justice Department project manager said that it's easy 'to get set in your ways using a specific manufacturer.'

But it also was clear that a few respondents didn't really understand what sole-sourcing is'using a single source for goods and services costing more than $2,500 instead of soliciting at least three competing bids'nor that the Federal Acquisition Regulation prohibits it unless an agency can justify that only one vendor can supply the good or service.

For instance, one buyer noted that sole-sourcing is an option being explored by the federal government, but it's not yet widespread. 'I think sole-sourcing gives our agency the cheapest and most technologically advanced software available on the market,' a Navy contracting officer said.

And an Interior buyer said: 'It is the most common way government agencies procure their hardware and software, so it is open to lots of corruption.'

Several respondents even acknowledged instances of sole-sourcing at their organizations.

Proceed with caution

'It's done judiciously around here,' said an Army procurement manager on the West Coast.

'There's a lot of sole-sourcing being done in my agency,' a systems accountant said.

Still others thought that there were cases where sole-sourcing is justified.

'Sometimes there is only one [vendor] that sells it,' an FBI buyer said.

'We only use it in a pinch,' said a federal procurement officer in Missouri.

But 'there has to be a real good justification to do it,' added an Interior buyer in Wyoming.

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