Members of the private sector and industry-representing groups applauded the General Services Administration’s decision to consolidate the 24 multiple award schedules into a single acquisition vehicle, but cautioned that the agency would have to do much more than just consolidation to affect real change.
“Assuming all else stays the same, combining all of the [special item numbers] under one umbrella doesn’t necessarily alleviate the burden to negotiations and buyers,” said Julia Conti, contracts director at CGI Federal, at a Dec. 12 GSA industry day. “Making it easier is not necessarily keeping it on autopilot.”
According to Conti and other members of a panel at the event, the GSA is going to have to rework contracting language, examine a broader array of contracting vehicles and make efforts to reach out to both agencies and the workforce for the MAS consolidation to be truly effective.
“At the same time that the program is consolidated, there must be a new online interface, a new 21st century e-commerce experience so that federal customers can more easily search and find the solutions they need. That’s going to take some standardization of contract terms and conditions and some standardization of product and service descriptions,” said Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners.
Perhaps the most popular reform included getting rid of the price reduction clause in multiple award schedule contracts, which requires contractors to report changes in their commercial pricing and can allow for a downward adjustment in contract costs with the federal government.
“Increasingly, the price reductions clause is an anachronism. It is a legacy from a bygone era, and it really has no place in the 21st century multiple award schedules program, particularly when we’re talking about the advent of unpriced schedules,” said Allen.
Unpriced schedules allow for greater competition at the task-order level, as the price is determined by the agency ordering off the contract, rather than the contract itself.
“We’re all in violent agreement about the reduction clause. It goes back to a 1980s policy — a time when the schedules were mandatory source, there were no competition requirements in the schedules program, it wasn’t … continuous open season, we didn’t have the internet — so it was built in a time where maybe you could understand a price reduction clause,” said Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.
“Companies don’t put stuff on contract because of the risk of the price reduction clause. The government should not have a clause in its contracts that as a condition of doing business with the government restricts your ability to do business with the private sector, and that’s what the price reduction clause does.”
On the whole, panelists advocated for a re-examination of contract requirements across the schedules to not only harmonize them in the new single schedule, but also remove redundant or outdated requirements, a process that is already underway at GSA.
“One of the largest phases is going to be this fiscal year, and actually this phase started last fiscal year. So over the last fiscal year we’ve created an integrated project team. This included members throughout MAS; it included members from every acquisition center, every portfolio, everything out there that touched MAS,” said Stephanie Shutt, director of the MAS Program Management Office.
“What we’ve been doing over the last year is reviewing the all terms and conditions.”
Panelists encouraged GSA to keep the federal acquisition workforce in the loop throughout the transition process, as a workforce as large as GSA’s “can’t turn on a dime” and plays an essential role in helping industry navigate the contracting process, particularly for small businesses.
GSA Administrator Emily Murphy said that the agency aims to make sure that contracting officers for MAS have access to the full body of knowledge across the currently disparate schedules, as well as creating a system that makes them capable of doing more meaningful work now that some efforts can be consolidated.
“We’ve got wonderful [contract specialists] and we want to take them from doing data entry to data analytics, and we’ve got to make sure that we get the right solution for all of our partners,” said Murphy.
Industry also encouraged GSA to look to its other acquisition programs to make sure that progress made in MAS is applied to other areas, where possible.
“The schedules are not the only tool in the GSA toolbox, and they’re certainly not the only tool in the agencies’ toolbox. So as the agencies look to cross other GSA reforms, other GSA [indefinite delivery indefinite quantity] contracts, other agency IDIQ contracts, this whole idea of category management and how that relates to both the future schedules program, as well as future contracting at other federal agencies will be important to keep in mind,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel for the Professional Services Counsel.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.