Big changes may be awaiting GSA’s schedules program

The Federal Supply Schedules — the government's large catalog of contracts that generates tens of billions of dollars worth of federal purchases — appears likely to see major revisions in the months ahead.

The General Services Administration, which manages the schedules, is reviewing whether the current supply schedules program still makes sense in an era of when most agencies make purchases via bulk-purchasing contracts such as blanket purchase agreements and strategic sourcing programs.

"Everything should be on the table with schedules," GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini said at a conference earlier this month.

He said it's time for GSA to take a thoughtful look at how the agency uses the schedules program — technically called the Multiple Awards Schedules — and where it fits in a digital age where people expect to be connected to products and services with the click of a button.

"We can really even ask some bigger meta questions about what is the role of the schedule in an environment in which you can have digital access to multiple-award vehicles across the government," Tangherlini said.

GSA is creating a digital portal — called the Common Acquisition Platform — that allows agency customers to search contract vehicles, compare prices on various contracts, and connect easily with other federal procurement experts. The agency also is crafting contract vehicles that provide more flexibility to contractors and agencies as well as more data on costs, prices and savings.

The efforts come at a time when GSA supply schedules sales continue to slide. Sales on the top 10 supply schedules fell from $22.4 billion in 2010 to $17.6 billion in 2013, according to research firm Deltek.

Tangherlini said the agency is seeking industry and customer feedback on how the supply schedules might be better designed. "We are looking for best ideas from our customers about what is the best part of the schedules they want us to keep," Tangherlini said. "And we are working with our vendors and our customer agencies saying, 'OK what are the things that drive you crazy that we need to get out of?' "

One potential reform Tangherlini identified: Making it easier for contractors to change the price they charge, instead of being locked in on a specific price.

Anne Rung, the administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, said any reforms of the supply schedules should include increasing competition and using data better — such as data on prices that other agencies pay for similar products.

"GSA has done some great work in this area already, and the idea there is can we create a more dynamic marketplace," Rung said.

Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, which represents vendors on the GSA schedules, said current pricing policies date back to the 1980s and hamstring contractors and reduce competition. Also, companies are beset by compliance rules and regulations, he said.

Reducing the pricing rules and streamlining the contracting process could reduce the cost per transaction for the schedules program and boost competition, Waldron said.

A problem is that many agencies feel the prices GSA negotiates could be lower, said Michael Fischetti, executive director of the National Contract Managers Association. For many government contract managers, the prices on the schedules are a "starting point" that agencies use to negotiate their own, better deals with the same vendors, he said.

Above all, the MAS should not try to be all things to all people, and should instead narrow its focus to areas where it can give confident pricing. "I think there is a role for the schedule in the future, but I don't think it should be as expansive as it is today," he said.■

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