The General Services Administration in the next three weeks will release the final solicitations for the $60 billion OASIS and OASIS small business multiple award contracts for complex professional services.
As GSA nears this milestone, the discussion of whether the government needs another large multiple award contract again comes to the forefront.
Current and former federal acquisition officials say it’s difficult to determine if there are too many multiple award contracts (MACs), but they did agree there is duplication within agencies and across the government. “The real question is interagency contracts and interagency acquisition versus single agency acquisition,” said Dan Gordon, former administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy, and now associate dean at the George Washington University law school. “When I took the OFPP job, there was a mantra that we had too many interagency contracts. The more I studied it, the more I became convinced we needed more interagency contracts. The real question isn’t is it good to have five or 10 governmentwide acquisition contracts, the real question is would it be better, would you have less duplication if you had 250 agency specific contracts? In my opinion, GWACs and interagency contracts in general are much better for reducing duplication than single agency and especially single component contracts.”
Part of the problem is no one knows how many MACs agencies run. Bill Woods, the director of acquisition sourcing management at the Government Accountability Office, said there is no data on just how many non-GWAC multiple award contracts exist or who runs them.
OFPP has tried several times over the last decade to create a database of multiple award contracts but has fallen short.
Business case requirement
Woods, who along with Gordon and others spoke at the Multiple Award Government and Industry Conference in Alexandria, Va., sponsored by the Partnership for Procurement Excellence, said without that data and transparency, it’s hard to say if there are too many or how many are offering similar or the same services.
Gordon said this lack of transparency and data is behind the requirement for an agency to get its business case approved before moving forward with a new multiple award contract.
Gordon released a memo in September 2011 mandating agencies submit a business case for all new MACs or those they want to renew worth more than $100 million over the life of the vehicle. The requirement for a business case drops to $50 million in fiscal 2014.
Gordon said the business case requirement was one way to reign in the explosion of MACs.
Jim Ghiloni, the director of the OASIS program management office, said GSA plans on issuing both final requests for proposals for the OASIS contract for complex professional services by the end of July, or early August at the latest.
“There are a couple of things that are getting some ‘T’s’ being crossed and ‘I’s’ being dotted this week and meetings being scheduled that will give me a better sense of whether we will be able to hit July,” he said. “At this point, there is nothing coming that if it does lapse out, it’s going to be much more than a week or so into August. It’s coming. The final will be out for a month, and we will announce awards in October. That’s what we are shooting for.”
Agencies committed to OASIS
Ghiloni, who spoke later in the day at the conference, said GSA is planning another 90 days after award for a protest. He said he expects to get a solicitation protest or an award protest, but not both.
“This is why we said actual work, order, notice to proceed, will be second quarter fiscal 2014 so sometimes January to March before things are up and running,” he said.
Ghiloni said agencies are anxiously waiting for the contract. He said GSA already has a commitment from the Air Force to spend $500 million through OASIS for professional services. And the market across government is large. GSA estimated agencies spent more than $60 billion on professional services in fiscal 2012, including 13 agencies that have spent more than $1 billion a year since 2010.
But as GSA gets closer to the releasing the final RFP, there’s a growing concern in industry.
In fact, multiple industry sources say this angst boiled over Wednesday night when Federal Acquisition Service Commissioner Tom Sharpe spoke at the conference’s opening dinner. Several industry representatives asked tough questions about GSA’s plans with OASIS.
While Ghiloni didn’t attend the dinner, he tried to put the expression of concern that came out in some perspective.
“I understand as we get closer to releasing the final RFPs that companies that have been tracking this for a while and seeing it change and evolve over time may have developed expectations or hopes that somehow we would change things that would enable them to bid when they are otherwise not qualified to do so based on the current pass-fails and such,” he said. “I understand as we get close to final, hope begins to die and tempers begin to rise there will be some tumult. Unfortunately, we can’t make everyone happy. It’s not our job to make everyone happy. We can’t and won’t award to everybody who’s interested. It’s not what the program is about.”
Ghiloni emphasized GSA’s goal of having on-ramps throughout the life of the contract.
“This program is not going to lock down for 10 years,” he said. “There will be fluidity in the contractor pool over time.”
GSA expects to make awards to 40 vendors in each of the six pools that make up OASIS. Ghiloni said he expects overlap in many of the awards, especially under the full and open contract.
The on-ramps will work two ways:
Small businesses that grow out of their size standard at the five-year point will have the opportunity to move to the full and open contract automatically as long as they meet the minimum qualifications. Ghiloni said those companies would have to submit a bid with updated information as part of the on- ramp process.
If GSA decides it’s not getting enough competition in a particular functional pool, such as if GSA consistently gets only one or two vendors to bid on a certain type of task order. Then, GSA will announce it will make an additional number of awards in that pool and open it to bids. The new companies again have to meet the minimum set of qualifications.
The use of on-ramps is a growing trend in government.
Dick Ginman, the Defense Department’s director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy, said he’s encouraging on-ramps and off-ramps for military services and agencies.
“If you are competent to do the work, you have the technical capability to do the work, you have good past performance and you are a financially viable firm, I’d give you a contract,” he said. “It is my personal opinion and as strategies come to me for review, I’d much prefer to rather go through this two-year drill to decide we will restrict to 10, why not award to the 20 companies who are competent to do the work? Because three or four years from now, when I go to run a task order, the person who lost the competition is now not eligible to me because they are not one of the holders.”
Ginman said this is why he’d like to see agencies move away from large kitchen- sink type of multiple award contracts.
Time to evolve MACs?
By awarding to all vendors who are qualified, agencies would have more competition at the task order level instead of the limited competition they have now.
During Ginman, Woods and Gordon’s panel, Stan Soloway, the president of the Professional Services Council, asked whether the government should reconsider how it develops IT and services contracts because of major changes. Soloway, who moderated the discussion, pointed to the facts that over the last five years the government shifted to buying more complex and high dollar IT and services through task orders, and vendors now have the ability to protest task orders.
GAO’s Woods said market forces should take care of that evolution, meaning agencies will buy and vendors will sell differently.
But it’s unclear whether that’s happening.
Ginman said that sort of change happens because of only one reason.
“At the end of the day from my standpoint this is driven by not the contract type, not how I am going to do it, but telling me what the requirement is,” he said. “If I don’t have a vehicle in place that meets that requirement, then I will create a new vehicle to meet that requirement.”
Of course, that also can lead to a proliferation of new MACs as agencies tend to believe they have unique requirements.