The GSA has received a lot of flack recently for its handling of contracts, leading to the loss of business with its largest customer, the Department of Defense (DoD). But in its crackdown on acquisition processes, DoD is actually the department that's left industry floundering, attendees told officials during a session at the Coalition for Government Procurement's fall conference.
Of course, recent criticisms of the GSA--from misallocation and misuse of funds to questionable fees and lack of administrative oversight--played a big role in the DoD's decision to bring the bulk of IT purchases internal, and to be more prudent in its use of non-DoD contracts.
"It's not that we don't want GSA to do the contracting," said Domenico Cippichio, deputy director for defense procurement. "We just want GSA and other outside agencies to do the contracting only when it makes the most sense."
To ensure that happens, DoD implemented a policy, which went into effect in January, that states "military departments and defense agencies must establish procedures for reviewing and approving the use of non-DoD contract vehicles when procuring supplies and services." The intent of the policy is to ensure such things as cost effectiveness, contract administration, contract appropriateness and inclusion of terms and conditions as required by the agency.
The problem? The policy, which was outlined in a memo from the DoD, is deemed vague by many in department agencies and industry alike, attendees said. In fact, enough people interpreted the policy to mean that DoD agencies couldn't buy through GSA at all that a clarification memo had to be released stating the use of non-DoD contracts is encouraged when it is "the best method of procurement to meet requirements." Still, different agencies have different means of ensuring that be the case--some more involved than others--and lack of understanding regarding what kind of justification is required and when continues to loom.
"There needs to be some clarification of [what's expected] for the Federal Supply Service Schedule versus assisted buying," which are contracts awarded on behalf of DoD by a non-DoD agency, said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.
According to feedback provided by attendees, even contracting officers at defense agencies remain stumped; projects are stalled, and industry is left to juggle differing expectations from agencies.
For one thing, Cippichio asks those in industry to raise their hands and at least ask a question when contracts appear to be mismanaged. That would help ensure some degree of accountability, he said, which would in turn help the kinks get worked out. He also asked for patience.
"The burden is on the agencies, not on industry," Cippichio said. "But this will still require forbearance and understanding of our process. There will be growth pains, but once the policies have properly been put in place, it will iron itself out and become routine."