Feds, vendors take FAR view of 508 buying rules

Feds, vendors take FAR view of 508 buying rules

As contracting officers grapple with the new Section 508 buying rules that take effect June 25, expect some procurements to be put on hold until agencies figure out if the products they plan to buy comply.

That is the conclusion of several agencies' contracting officials. Meanwhile, some federal officials and industry analysts suggested that the Federal Acquisition Regulation language is too sketchy to be of real use.

By failing to offer specific buying guidance, the government is following the same process it initially did in dealing with year 2000 date code fixes, said Chip Mather of Acquisition Solutions Inc. of Chantilly, Va.

Many federal information technology workers have compared Section 508 compliance to year 2000 woes because of the regulation's scope. But there are even more parallels, Mather said.
The FAR language lets each agency define what is acceptable, he said.

'During Y2K, you had some products that were acceptable at one agency and not acceptable at another,' Mather said. 'Without standard FAR language, the industry has a legitimate bitch.'

For year 2000 preparations, agencies were
all hurtling toward a cliff they knew they'd have to jump, but that's not so with Section 508, Education CIO Craig Luigart says.
Education Department chief information officer Craig Luigart disagreed. He noted that many agencies have been working on accessibility initiatives for years.

For the year 2000 effort, agencies were all hurtling toward a cliff they knew they had to jump, Luigart said. With Section 508, there are exemptions agencies can apply if needed, he said.

Tracey Ambeau, a 508 compliance officer at the Agriculture Department, said agencies need to use all the guidance available, not just the new FAR rules.

Taken with the Access Board's standards for Section 508, the new buying rules should be clear enough for contracting officers and CIO staffs, Ambeau said.

But following a recent General Services Administration-sponsored meeting at which procurement officials decried the lack of guidance, the FAR Council is considering whether specific clauses containing concise procurement guidelines are needed.

Such guidelines, usually accompanied by sample contracting language, would further help procurement officials understand the requirements, Ambeau said.

Without such assistance, federal managers need to study the Access Board standards and understand them completely, said Deborah C. Erwin, senior assistant general counsel at GSA specializing in procurement.

Procurement officials should use the two documents in tandem, she said, because the Access Board standards include descriptions of technology that is acceptable and offer specific recommendations.

The Access Board rules, published in the Dec. 21 Federal Register, are quite detailed technically, said Dave Yanchulis, an accessibility specialist with the board. The standards were written in a manner specific enough that they would provide a solid guide on accessibility issues, he said.

'Tony Lee Orr


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