When Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, started working in government in the late 1980s, the government was buying more products and a lot less services than it does today. In the intervening years, as the government downsized, the need for services increased.
“The GSA Schedules, probably in the early ’90s, maybe 60 or 70 percent, maybe even a little bit higher, were product-based acquisitions,” Walrdon said.
Waldron said 55 to 65 percent of acquisitions are services today.
“Services, I think, are a bit harder to acquire. It’s harder to write requirements around them. It’s harder to evaluate them, what access to the commercial market, so I think the Services Acquistion Reform Act was an effort to address that in part,” he said.
“Much of the federal regulations that had been promulgated through the years had been designed to manage the acquisition of goods,” said Tim DiNapoli, acting director of GAO’s acquisition and sourcing management office. “So, SARA, which came about in 2003, was intended to provide more guidance and flexibility on how we acquire services.”
SARA included a number of key provisions intended to make that happen.
First, it created a civilian acquisition officer in each agency to oversee the procurement process. Second, it encouraged incentives for using performance-based contracts for services. It also provided the authority for the federal government to identify commercial services that could be acquired on a time-and-material basis or a labor-hour basis, which hadn’t been clear in statute before.
“It also helped agencies to establish a more capable workforce with regards to establishing a workforce training fund, with some of the intent being to improve how contracting officers could improve their skills and capabilities in buying goods and services,” DiNapoli said.
SARA also established the Acquistion Advisory Panel, made up of 13 people from the government and private sector, who reported to Congress and the Office of Management and Budget on the procurement system.