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Price Reduction Clause could slow cloud on Schedule 70

Jul. 28, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By ROGER WALDRON   |   Comments

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Last week GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) Office of Schedule Programs issued a Request for Information (RFI) seeking feedback on the “GSA Proposed Change to Add a Cloud Computing Special Item Number (SIN) on IT Schedule 70.”

(See related story.)

The RFI indicates that the purpose of the new Cloud Computing SIN “would be to improve the way GSA offers cloud computing services through IT Schedule 70, increase visibility and access of cloud computing services to customer agencies, and to provide industry partners the opportunity to differentiate their cloud computing services from other IT related products and services. “ The RFI notes that the proposed change “would support OMB’s ‘Cloud First’ policy by enabling agencies to take advantage of cloud computing benefits to maximize capacity utilization, improve IT flexibility and responsiveness and minimize cost.”

The goals of the RFI are to:

(1) Gain feedback from industry and any other relevant stakeholders on a proposed new Cloud Computing Services SIN; and

(2) Better understand how industry partners are selling cloud computing services today on IT Schedule 70, to support a decision on creating a Cloud Computing Services SIN.

The RFI seeks feedback from both customer agencies and industry partners. The due date for submission of comments is August 6th. The RFI can be found here.

The RFI is a positive step on the part of FAS in seeking innovative solutions to customer agency requirements. However, in order to seed the cloud via IT Schedule 70, FAS should address the applicability of the Price Reduction Clause to the proposed Cloud Computing SIN. The PRC is an outdated (from the 1980s) pricing compliance scheme that increases contract administrative costs while restricting the ability of contractors to maximize service solutions with their latest technologies at best value—including best price for agency requirements. Simply put, the PRC is an anti-competitive, anti-innovation contract term.

The origins of the PRC date from a 1982 Multiple Award Schedule policy statement addressing the pricing negotiation and terms of schedule contracts. Under the PRC, a customer or category of customers is identified as the tracking customer for purposes of price reductions. Generally, under the terms of the PRC, if a MAS contractor offers the tracking customer(s) a price reduction during the life of the MAS contract, a corresponding reduction must be provided to the government. Failure to do so results in a breach of contract, and potentially severe consequences, including possible Civil False Claims Act liability. The PRC reflects a time when the MAS program was product-based. It also reflects a time when the MAS program was a mandatory program and when competition was not required at the order level. At the time, given the structure of the program, the PRC was intended to provide price protection for the government. Times have changed!!

Today, services account for approximately two-thirds of annual purchases under the MAS program. The MAS is open to all commercial sources (with the exception of Schedule 75, Office Supplies, which is closed to new offers) and the statutory and regulatory framework governing the MAS program require competition for all orders exceeding the simplified acquisition threshold. Simply put, unlike the MAS program of the ‘80s, task and delivery order competitions for agency specific requirements are driving pricing under the program.

Moreover, task and delivery order competition for agency specific requirements is sound procurement practice when acquiring IT/professional service solutions like cloud computing. With the cloud, each service requirement is unique, reflecting the customer agency’s IT infrastructure, security requirements, mission, workforce, and organizational structure.

The PRC ignores the unique quality of service solutions in the market. Variations in service solutions for each customer mean that an apples-to-apples comparison for purposes of the PRC is problematic at best, if not impossible. Each time an MAS contractor provides a commercial customer with a solution, the contractor must address whether that solution impacts the PRC. The result is an unhealthy restriction on the contractor’s ability to compete in the commercial marketplace. Due to the competitive and administrative challenges in tracking commercial transactions for PRC compliance many contractors will not offer their newest products, services and technologies via IT Schedule 70. As a result, access to the latest commercial innovations is restricted under the MAS program.

Cloud computing solutions are typically tailored to meet customer needs. As with many other complex services, each requirement stands on its own. Applying a costly administrative pricing oversight mechanism like the PRC in such a dynamic, innovative environment makes no business or procurement sense. Waiving the applicability of the PRC to the Cloud Computing SIN is the best way to accelerate best value “cloud computing” solutions and increase access to commercial innovation via IT Schedule 70. Eliminating the PRC and relying on task order competitions for agency specific requirements will drive competition, innovation, value and pricing for cloud services across the MAS program.

Interestingly, there is precedent for such an approach, a little over a year ago FAS waived applicability of the PRC for MAS furniture contractors in order to allow the MAS contractors to fully compete for a series of furniture procurements. Alternatively, FAS could issue a class deviation eliminating the PRC for the Cloud Computing SIN.

Over the longer term, given the growing convergence of IT and services, the time is right for GSA to reform the MAS pricing policies (and eliminate the PRC) to reflect the 21st century marketplace. Such an approach will be a win for customer agencies, the American people, and contractors.

The next step in accelerating cloud computing solutions via IT Schedule 70 is the activation of “Other Direct Costs” through the current FAR Clause that is already in the IT Schedule 70 contracts. But more on that in my next blog.

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