EDITORIAL

Reverse that view

Thomas R. Temin

Whiskey, depending on your point of view, might be a wonderful elixir of companionship, good cheer and fondly remembered occasions. Or it might be poison, a wrecker of happiness and sobriety, the devil's own tonic.

Reverse auctions are not unlike whiskey. How they are regarded definitely provokes impassioned opinions. You could see them as exemplifying the worst in procurement, beating down vendors on price to the exclusion of all other considerations and leading to the receipt of junk. Or, you could see them as simply a tool to speed negotiations according to the latest thinking in procurement reform, keeping best value as the goal.

A lot of vendors are complaining that reverse auctions are a return to the bad old days. Sorry, but buying on price can take place with or without reverse auctions. Like so many purchasing techniques in the era of reform and the Internet, reverse auctions are nothing more than a tool to carry out a strategy. The intentions of the buying agency make them either pure price plays or something more.

One problem with reverse auctions might be the unfortunate name. The word 'auction' in most people's minds means bidding on price. Add the word 'reverse' and it would seem to mean lowest price. But that's not necessarily the way they work. Capt. Doug Roark, deputy commander for contracting management at the Naval Supply Systems Command, in a letter to the editor printed at right, makes the case for reverse auctions as merely negotiations conducted at high speed on the Internet.

William N. Gormley, assistant commissioner of the General Services Administration's Federal Supply Service, said in a recent speech that reverse auctions need not be lowest-price affairs. He said vendors are free to offer'and agencies to consider'terms and conditions, warranties and past performance.

Certainly it is incumbent on agencies conducting reverse auctions to make their selection criteria known to potential participants. And vendors are free to bid or walk away. But if they want the government to move at Internet speed, then reverse auctions are here to stay.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

E-mail: editor@gcn.com

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