While “April in Atlanta” may not have the same ring as “April in Paris” the
return of GSA’s national training event and conference is music to the ears of
many in government and industry. GSA Administrator Emily Murphy announced the
conference, to be known as “FAST”, during the Coalition for Government
Procurement Spring Conference. “FAST”,
which stands for “Federal Acquisition Service Training”, will be held April
14-16, 2020. Murphy emphasized
that the show is NOT a new Expo, but the show will have a somewhat familiar
format. Thousands of hours of training
from qualified instructors will be available for both GSA federal customers and
contractors. A small show room floor may
also be in the works. If so, this
format would closely follow that of two recent regional shows that GSA held in
Huntsville, Alabama. Indeed, Murphy
stated that it is her agency’s intent to hold more regional events, in
addition to the national conference. The
bottom line is that this is good news for anyone who does business with GSA. While the agency has done a credible job
recently of increasing its web-based training, sometimes there is no substitute for
getting people together in the same location. The discussions, education, and relationship
building that take place at such events truly has a positive impact on
acquisition. Kudos to Murphy for throwing off
the ghosts of the past and moving her agency ahead.
coordinated, centralized program through which federal agencies buy from
commercial e-marketplace providers is moving closer to reality. The General Services Administration announced
this week that they expect to have a draft RFP issued by the end of June and
still hope to have awards made to start an actual pilot by the end of the
calendar year. While the agency
intends the pilot to focus on office supplies and industrial products, agency
representatives admitted at last week’s Coalition conference that there were no
plans to block other items that may come up during a search for those in the
pilot project. This seems
similar to the catalog approach the agency has had for its office supply
schedule and OS4 contracts, where core items are identified, but entire
catalogs may be offered. Supply
chain security and ensuring that federal buyers actually purchase authentic
goods are also key agency concerns, as is a proposed increase in the
Micro Purchase Threshold to $25,000 for pilot transactions. GSA officials acknowledged industry concerns
that the e-commerce pilot places Schedule product contractors on an unequal
footing since different terms and conditions apply to each type of buy. They insist, though, that e-commerce transactions will
be complementary to GSA Schedule buys and will largely replace open market
purchases that are now made via commercial e-commerce sites. Stay tuned.
Department of Homeland Security has committed less than 30% of the total
dollars spent in FY’18 so far in FY’19, according to
Deputy Chief Procurement Officer Nina Ferraro.
If the agency, as expected, is to commit at least the same amount of
money this year, substantial work remains to be done in just a little over
one-quarter of the fiscal year.
This is just one of the impacts of the partial government shut-down,
according to a panel of acquisition officials speaking at the recent Coalition
for Government Procurement Spring Conference.
Phil Cristy of the Department of Veterans Affairs echoed Ferraro’s
comments saying that the year-end should be a “bumper crop” for IT, healthcare,
professional service and construction spending. While this is mostly good news for
contractors, it does mean that the opportunities for newer market entries or
others seeking to build relationships may have a tough time getting face time
with federal customers.
Acquisition officials from all agencies, but especially those that were
closed earlier in the year, will have to work full-time to get projects out the
door. Ironically, communication with
industry was an issue that came up during the shutdown itself as CO’s weren’t
always sure what they could or should tell contractors about on-going
projects. The status of some changed
during the shutdown, adding to the confusion.
Any time opportunities for communication are missed the potential for a
more difficult or protracted procurement increases. Contractors and their customers should
ensure that, no matter how fast-paced the environment becomes, they don’t lose
sight of the importance of at least a quick talk.
Government workers need three to four days to
recover from every day of shutdown, according to information gathered by the Federal Times. That time-lag can especially harm
contractors who had to wait weeks in some cases to receive “return to
work” orders from contracting officers.
Some contractors had yet to be fully paid for work done prior to the
shut-down as recently as the end of April.
The Federal Times estimates that “normal” government operations may not
resume until the end of this month.
The report matches Allen Federal’s own experience in dealing with
acquisition officials across multiple agencies.
Even normally responsive organizations have cited a need to “dig out”
for weeks after their agency re-opened.
Yet, while contractors have every right to be frustrated and may want to be
compensated for shut-down related costs, it is not likely that Congress will go
along. Instead, contractors are
probably better off viewing the partial shut-down as a learning
experience. The 25 day closure may be
the current record, but the fact is that it broke a relatively recent record
With acrimony on the Hill at its
highest point since perhaps the Civil War, and a Presidential election year
looming in 2020, the smart money is on developing plans to withstand more
frequent, and perhaps more lengthy, shut-downs. Building financial reserves and planning for
the retention of key workers are both critical pieces of the puzzle. The bottom line is that if the future
open/closed nature of the federal government is unpredictable, contractors need
to take steps to make sure they’re protected.
Whether intentional or not, GSA created a potentially sticky small
business problem when it failed to set-aside specific parts of its planned 2GIT
Blanket Purchase Agreement to replace the Air Force’s NetCents contract. It now has a protest to deal with and a lot
of media attention surrounding it. Perhaps one reason for the frustration is
current NetCents vehicle has several parts specifically set-aside for small
businesses. Federal Procurement
Data Center information shows that these parts of the contract have averaged
about $1.5 billion a year in sales over the last three completed fiscal years. Yet GSA’s draft RFP contains no obvious small
business set-aside or small business companion provisions. It is unclear whether the Air Force wanted it
that way or whether GSA believed that a lack of set-aside protections would not
cause a significant obstacle to small business participation. What is clear is that the lack of small
business protections seems to be tone deaf, at best. Indeed, Allen Federal is aware that multiple
small firms are scrambling to form teams in order to compete for the BPA, lest
they be closed out of business they may do now via NetCents. After an enviable run of being resistant to
successful protests, GSA may be on a streak of bad luck. Recent small business issues with OASIS
forced the agency to withdraw awards and conduct a new competition with a
revised RFP. Whatever the outcome of the 2GIT
protest, the agency would be well-advised to show a clear path on how small
businesses will be able to compete on this BPA as well as other planned large