Neal Fox | GSA & DOD: New agreement, old mistakes

Contracting in perspective

Neal Fox

I wish I could say that the recently signed procurement agreement between the General Services Administration and the Defense Department will help bring DOD business back to GSA, but it won't. In fact, it will do the opposite. Just like its predecessor, the failed Get it Right campaign of 2004-2005 (may it rest in peace), this new agreement will hurt GSA much more than it helps. And like a bad sequel to an equally bad first movie, 'Get it Right II' will go down as another GSA box office flop.

That's a shame. GSA has worked hard to improve its assisted services, so DOD would do well to use them. As GSA's largest customer, and its biggest user of assisted services, DOD has been the focus of the agency's attention lately. So an agreement would seem to be a good approach. But this latest GSA move makes it harder for DOD to use GSA's services. What went wrong?

To address the original issues'including illegally carrying agency funds from one fiscal year over to the next and the violation of procurement rules by a few well-intentioned but misguided contracting officers'GSA instituted the Get it Right campaign in 2004. But the resulting slowdown in service backfired on GSA. There's no small irony in the fact that when the agency sought a remedy, it turned to the same authors who championed the Get it Right campaign. That is akin to asking the director of 'Attack of the Killer Tomatoes' to do a sequel.

This new agreement was supposed to set procurement ground rules for the agencies. But it will actually be harder for DOD to use GSA, with language that will confuse working-level contracting officers and by imposing unneeded new burdens on them.

Contracting officers will likely turn to vehicles where the rules are clearer, create more of their own contracts or use existing internal contracts, because lack of clarity creates personal risk at the working level. And contracting officers are among the most conservative and risk-averse people in government.

Among the agreement's 22 provisions, for instance, is one that states that contracting officers must 'ensure that price reasonableness determinations are completed on every contract or order either placed by DOD or by GSA on behalf of DOD.' That might sound harmless, but this one sentence sets aside what makes the GSA schedules work, namely that contracting officers can compare three vendor prices and make a purchase. Notice it does not state a dollar limit such as for orders over a certain threshold, nor does it exempt the schedules' unique ordering procedures that make them so useful to customers. How are contracting officers to comply with this requirement? Can they use the GSA schedule ordering procedures, or have they been set aside?

Several other provisions require a DOD contracting officer to double-check every major decision and action by the GSA assisted-services contracting officer. Many DOD offices hire GSA because they don't have their own contracting officers, so these offices will need to turn to other assisted-services organizations, such as GovWorks.

Another provision requires DOD contracting officers to 'ensure that contract surveillance and oversight requirements are defined, adequate and implemented when used in connection with a contract or order either issued by DOD or by GSA in support of DOD.' Now, tell me that a GS-12 contracting officer'or anyone else'knows what that means and can assure their boss that they have actually complied with it.

GSA may have unwittingly signed its own termination notice. GSA would say it needed to placate the inspector general, which has criticized GSA's and DOD's procurement practices. But that is no excuse for such poor execution, which will make this 'Get it Right' sequel very painful to watch.

Neal Fox is a retired Air Force colonel and former GSA assistant commissioner for acquisition. He now leads Neal Fox Consulting. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Neil Fox is the former assistant commissioner for commercial acquisition at GSA's Federal Supply Service, and is now principal at Neal Fox Consulting.


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