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ONE THING TO DO NOW: STOP AND COMMENT

We normally use this space to provide multiple tips on business development steps your company can take now.  Today, we’re recommending that your company do ONE thing that can help protect a portion of your business for years to come.  That action is to comment on GSA’s RFI featuring draft terms and conditions for its Consolidated Schedules solicitation expected later this year.  From our experience in the association world, getting companies to comment is worse than pulling teeth.  Yet, it is absolutely essential in this case.  The changes GSA is contemplating WILL change the foundation of your Schedule contract.  The changes will impact not only how you sell through the contract moving forward, but what you will have to comply with and how. Need more proof?  The consolidation process will almost certainly wipe out any special terms and conditions your company has negotiated into your current contract – if you are not careful.  Make sure that GSA knows how important those terms are to your firm and that you expect to be able to maintain those terms regardless of the overall impact of the consolidation effort.  Taking the time now to submit comments lets GSA know that you care about your Schedule relationship and what you think is important to ensure the success of the program moving forward.  When an agency seeks comment, they really expect it back.  The fewer the comments, the more the agency expects its proceeding as it should, meaning that a rude awakening could be in store for your company if you ignore the comment process and end up with terms you can’t live with.  Comments are due to the agency July 5th, so there’s plenty of time.  Follow the link here for more information:  https://feedback.gsa.gov/jfe/form/SV_6MewsGr94n9z0b3

CONGRESS URGES DOD TO ACTUALLY USE FLEXIBLE TOOLS IT HAS

From fiscal years 2016-2019, Congress sought to drive massive acquisition reform in DOD by passing more than 300 reform provisions, according to analysis that recently appeared inDefense News.  Included among these was a fundamental reorganization of the Pentagon’s acquisition bureaucracy, a host of new flexible funding authorities, and greater consideration for commercial best practices across software development and basic business operations.  The Department of Defense, however, has yet to effectively wield all the new tools Congress gave it.  Now, Ranking House Armed Services Republican Mac Thornberry (R-GA), the catalyst for many of the recent reforms, is urging the Pentagon to get on with it and implement not only already authorized flexibilities, but new ones he is promoting via the Continuing Acquisition Reform measure he expects to attach to the FY’20 Defense Authorization bill.  Thornberry seeks to restore trust between the Pentagon and Congress, citing his belief that the breakdown in that trust is responsible not only for new oversight passed by Congress, but an atmosphere of caution inside the Pentagon.  Rather than saddling the acquisition system with new regulations, reporting requirements and complexity, Thornberry’s bill aims to have the Pentagon actually use the tools it already has.  Contractors can play a role here, as well, by educating DOD customers on the flexibilities Congress has enacted over the last several years and providing use cases that show the specific benefits of these reforms.  Contractors cannot assume that their DOD customers know about all of the changes, and especially not how to use them.  To paraphrase Thornberry, “Help your customer help themselves.”

MAIL BAG: IGNORING THE PILE SWEPT UNDER THE RUG

New reader A. Grande of New York, NY writes, “I’m a contract administrator for a mid-size IT re-seller.  The training classes I’ve been to say that my company should be reporting errors and delivery problems, but we don’t.  My senior vice president says it will all be ok and that I shouldn’t worry.  The pile of things we haven’t done, though, seems to be really adding up?  Can you suggest something?”  Great question, A.  It can be tough to see potential contract violations go unaddressed in a company.  At best, your company is making a bet with their own, or their investors’, money.  At worst, they’re potentially exposing both themselves and the company to significant fines if problems are uncovered.  It can be tough to be heard sometimes as a lower-level employee.  If your SVP won’t listen, try another route. Most contractors should have anonymous hotlines where potential problems are reported.  They’re usually set up so that people in legal or compliance get the information, not people in a specific business line.  This is definitely a best practice.  If your company doesn’t have one, though, try your contract manager or legal counsel’s office.  While there is a tendency to put off potential problems so long as business is coming in the front door, ignoring problems won’t make them go away.  They can and do get worse.  It’s good to be concerned.  Sing out to someone who will hear you.

CONGRESS BEGINS SENDING SIGNALS ABOUT FY’20 SPENDING – SURPRISES MAY BE IN STORE

Funding for the federal CIO office would go down by nearly half, to $15 million under a bill passed by House appropriators this week, a surprising potential cut from a Democratically controlled body that has traditionally favored overall IT investments in the federal space, including centralized IT management.  In the meantime, though, the House bill would fund the Technology Modernization Fund at $35 million, a boost of new money that could enable more projects to proceed.  These are among the early signs of where Congress may allocate funds for IT and related spending next fiscal year.  Not surprising was the withholding of any money that would allow GSA to merge with the Office of Personnel Management.  Although some functions have already been transferred to GSA, Congress is skeptical overall of placing the two agencies together.  This area may shape up to be a fight later in the appropriations cycle.  In the meantime, contractors should pay closer attention than usual to where Congress allocates federal IT money as it is likely to differ more than usual from the President’s budget request submitted earlier this year.  Expect Congress to assert more of its own priorities.  GSA contractors, meanwhile, should not see too much of an impact in the day to day workings of the agency from the uncertainty surrounding its status with OPM.  There is only a small cadre of people working on the project and involvement outside of that group only at the senior-most levels of the agency.

E-COMMERCE PLATFORMS MUST BALANCE PRICE, EASE OF USE, SECURITY

Even as GSA moves ahead with its e-commerce portal project, individual agencies have either initiated pilots or are thinking about it.  The ease of use and real-time buying capabilities of these portals offer strong incentives for agencies to use them.  In addition, each platform offers substantial spend analysis features, enabling agencies to better manage their budgets and make smarter buying decisions.  Sounds like a no-brainer, right?  Peel back the cover, though, and there are some plot twists to this story.  First, agencies must consider how they want to compare pricing available via platforms.  Is it enough that prices on commercial e-commerce platforms are likely lower than the open market prices agencies obtain today when they make micro-purchases, or will pricing have to match or beat prices available through standing contracts like the GSA Schedules program?  One answer may be that slightly higher prices are seen as acceptable when the near-real-time availability of spend analysis is factored in.  Some agencies, though, may insist on the lower price.  Second, secure supply chains must be addressed.  Commercial e-commerce providers vary widely in how they vet the items sold through their platforms.  Some pay more attention to the authenticity of goods than others.  At a time when secure supply chains are viewed as essential, how will agency leaders manage e-commerce platform acquisitions to ensure that only the items that should be purchased are?  It is already an established fact that most agencies use E-Bay to obtain replacements for items that are out of production.  Whether it’s that platform, or another, the risk must be appropriately managedE-Commerce offers many potential benefits to the federal market but, like any other acquisition option, this tool must be used responsibly and under the right circumstances.