BEST WAY FORWARD FOR GSA IS TO BELIEVE IN THEIR PROGRAMS/PEOPLE
GSA officials involved in the Multiple Award Schedules program have many initiatives in development now. While some have positive aspects, efforts to ensure that price disparities for one item offered by many companies are legitimate have potential, others make it seem like the agency has an inferiority complex when it comes to standing behind their program and people. GSA executives need to understand the maxim “You can’t please all of the people all of the time”.
The attempt to collect transactional data and populate it in a prices paid comparison tool is one example of the inferiority complex. Since the day the Schedules program was created in the 1940’s, some federal buyer somewhere has said “I can get it for less”. Leadership assured of its programs fundamentals would examine such claims and find some to be true, but others false. Tweaks could be made to the system. The database project is a sign that GSA officials believe each and every “I get it for less” claim. Here’s a true statement GSA officials need to understand: No matter how thorough the fire drill you’re going through now, there will still be federal buyers who say “I can get it for less” when you’re done.
This isn’t to say that reasonable efforts to ensure fair prices on Schedule shouldn’t be undertaken. Collecting information on why prices differ at the contract level may be a good exercise. Similarly, market research – so long as it’s based on “apples to apples” comparisons – could bring good results. Attempting to build a huge, likely unworkable, expensive system is a disproportional reaction.
It also serves to just give GSA’s MAS contracting professionals a real kick in the pants. At its base, the program says “we don’t trust you”. I know I’d feel good about my job with that type of management view, especially if funds for my continued training were diverted to the new system.
GSA leaders need to take reasonable actions to ensure that there contract professionals are well-trained and supported. They definitely should take proportional action to ensure that prices on Schedule are fair and reasonable.
They also, however, need to believe in their program and know its value statement by heart. The Schedules program is excellent for many needs. It’s not in business, though, to be the federal equivalent of the Dollar Store. When you’re secure about your program you can tell skeptical buyers “We do our best to make sure we’re competitive, but no one can be the cheapest all of the time.” By the way, this is a neat commercial practice itself. It’s basically what Wal Mart says.