EDITOR'S DESK: Do protests need their own line item?

Wyatt Kash

The arc of consolidation casts many shadows. Along with the promise of efficiency and the pain of displacement, consolidation often brings unintended consequences as a byproduct.

That may be the case again as the consolidation of government IT services begins to exact an unanticipated price, embedded in the mounting delays federal IT managers must deal with as a result of vendor protests of government contract decisions.

It's hard to argue with the benefits of reducing duplicative business systems across agencies. But as pressure from the Office of Management and Budget to consolidate common IT services mounts, so too do the stakes for government suppliers.

As contracts grow in scale and scope, suppliers fear being squeezed out of the government contracting food chain altogether.

It comes as no surprise that the number of vendor protests registered annually with the Government Accountability Office in 2004 has risen by nearly a third since 2001 to 1,483 cases, as reported by staff writer Jason Miller in the Jan. 10 issue.

The cause for concern is not the number of protests'insignificant compared with the millions of purchases the government makes each year'so much as the hidden cost of the uncertainty and delays they spawn.

The Housing and Urban Development Department's $750 million contract to overhaul its IT services support is perhaps the most egregious example to date. The contract and much of the important work cascading from it have been in limbo since September 2003, as a result of GAO upholding not one, but two, vendor protests.

There is something to be said for having a mechanism to vet contracting irregularities. But as the size of contracts increases, the relative expense of protesting them diminishes for some suppliers to the mere cost of doing business.

The time is coming when OMB will need to calculate the costs of project delays from vendor protests as carefully as the savings the projects are meant to derive.

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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