Outreach and training need to be strengths of Schedule 70
Outreach has always been an important part of the General Services Administration’s Schedule 70 program—to let agency buyers know how to access it and purchase from it and to educate vendors on how to work with it to offer their products and services to government. As more services and products are added to the schedule and as competition from other procurement vehicles intensifies, outreach will only become more important.
There’s a perception that GSA has been slipping in this area, however, which is one reason that Kay Ely, who took over as director of the Office of IT Schedule Programs toward the end of 2011, made greater interaction with both industry and agency customers one of her goals.
That has become even more important as GSA, along with other government agencies, has been pressured by budget constraints to cut back on trade shows and other events. It had to cancel its GSA Expo for 2013, for example, and that’s traditionally been an important event for meeting with industry and for training thousands of federal employees on ways to effectively use its schedules and other contracts.
That kind of training is important in a very practical way, according to Ray Bjorklund, president of BirchGrove Consulting and a former federal procurement official. Purchasing from schedules can be daunting if someone hasn’t done it before, he said, “though it shouldn’t be, and because of that, there’s a certain idea about how easy they are to use.”
It can seem arcane, he said, because contracts such as Schedule 70 require buyers to pick items from numerous columns and have a lot of different Special Item Numbers to choose from. It becomes even harder if you are trying to piece complex services together.
“If you have a good program manager and a great contracting shop, you can figure out what to pick from which column,” Bjorklund said. “But then you have to cobble things together, versus simply providing a statement of work along with the objectives and saying, ‘Now give me a price.’”
There’s a growing view among agency buyers that Schedule 70 is not only harder to use than other platforms, such as governmentwide acquisition contracts, but its prices are higher than what they can get on those other vehicles. However, that’s a mistake because GSA’s published schedule prices are a ceiling only, and any buyer is free to negotiate whatever discounts they can with a vendor.
As far as Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners, is concerned, GSA has a clear goal for the people who administer Schedule 70, who “are probably in the most competitive slice of the business today.”
“They need to get back to where they were six or seven years ago and say with a straight face that they are offering today’s solution today,” he said. “Only in IT do they face competition from dozens of stand-alone contract vehicles, so they have to be first to market with solutions, and they have to make sure that people know how to use the schedule.”
GSA offers on-site training to federal, state and local government employees and said it will customize that training according to individual agency needs. It also runs a number of websites dedicated to education and outreach, including: