Category Archives: Business

GSA TO HOLD NATIONAL “FAST” CONFERENCE

While “April in Atlanta” may not have the same ring as “April in Paris” the return of GSA’s national training event and conference is music to the ears of many in government and industry.  GSA Administrator Emily Murphy announced the conference, to be known as “FAST”, during the Coalition for Government Procurement Spring Conference.  “FAST”, which stands for “Federal Acquisition Service Training”, will be held April 14-16, 2020.  Murphy emphasized that the show is NOT a new Expo, but the show will have a somewhat familiar format.  Thousands of hours of training from qualified instructors will be available for both GSA federal customers and contractors.  A small show room floor may also be in the works.  If so, this format would closely follow that of two recent regional shows that GSA held in Huntsville, Alabama.  Indeed, Murphy stated that it is her agency’s intent to hold more regional events, in addition to the national conference.  The bottom line is that this is good news for anyone who does business with GSA.  While the agency has done a credible job recently of increasing its web-based training, sometimes there is no substitute for getting people together in the same location.  The discussions, education, and relationship building that take place at such events truly has a positive impact on acquisition.  Kudos to Murphy for throwing off the ghosts of the past and moving her agency ahead.

GSA EXPECTS TO RELEASE DRAFT COMMERCIAL E-COMMERCE RFP BY END OF JUNE

A coordinated, centralized program through which federal agencies buy from commercial e-marketplace providers is moving closer to reality.  The General Services Administration announced this week that they expect to have a draft RFP issued by the end of June and still hope to have awards made to start an actual pilot by the end of the calendar year.  While the agency intends the pilot to focus on office supplies and industrial products, agency representatives admitted at last week’s Coalition conference that there were no plans to block other items that may come up during a search for those in the pilot project.  This seems similar to the catalog approach the agency has had for its office supply schedule and OS4 contracts, where core items are identified, but entire catalogs may be offered.  Supply chain security and ensuring that federal buyers actually purchase authentic goods are also key agency concerns, as is a proposed increase in the Micro Purchase Threshold to $25,000 for pilot transactions.  GSA officials acknowledged industry concerns that the e-commerce pilot places Schedule product contractors on an unequal footing since different terms and conditions apply to each type of buy.  They insist, though, that e-commerce transactions will be complementary to GSA Schedule buys and will largely replace open market purchases that are now made via commercial e-commerce sites.  Stay tuned.

ACQUISITION EXECS EXPLAIN PAIN FROM SHUTDOWN, PREDICT FRENETIC YEAR-END

The Department of Homeland Security has committed less than 30% of the total dollars spent in FY’18 so far in FY’19, according to Deputy Chief Procurement Officer Nina Ferraro.  If the agency, as expected, is to commit at least the same amount of money this year, substantial work remains to be done in just a little over one-quarter of the fiscal year.  This is just one of the impacts of the partial government shut-down, according to a panel of acquisition officials speaking at the recent Coalition for Government Procurement Spring Conference.  Phil Cristy of the Department of Veterans Affairs echoed Ferraro’s comments saying that the year-end should be a “bumper crop” for IT, healthcare, professional service and construction spendingWhile this is mostly good news for contractors, it does mean that the opportunities for newer market entries or others seeking to build relationships may have a tough time getting face time with federal customers.  Acquisition officials from all agencies, but especially those that were closed earlier in the year, will have to work full-time to get projects out the door.  Ironically, communication with industry was an issue that came up during the shutdown itself as CO’s weren’t always sure what they could or should tell contractors about on-going projects.  The status of some changed during the shutdown, adding to the confusion.  Any time opportunities for communication are missed the potential for a more difficult or protracted procurement increasesContractors and their customers should ensure that, no matter how fast-paced the environment becomes, they don’t lose sight of the importance of at least a quick talk.  

SHUTDOWN HAD A LONGER, OUT SIZED IMPACT ON CONTRACTORS

Government workers need three to four days to recover from every day of shutdown, according to information gathered by the Federal TimesThat time-lag can especially harm contractors who had to wait weeks in some cases to receive “return to work” orders from contracting officers.  Some contractors had yet to be fully paid for work done prior to the shut-down as recently as the end of April.  The Federal Times estimates that “normal” government operations may not resume until the end of this month.  The report matches Allen Federal’s own experience in dealing with acquisition officials across multiple agencies.  Even normally responsive organizations have cited a need to “dig out” for weeks after their agency re-opened.  Yet, while contractors have every right to be frustrated and may want to be compensated for shut-down related costs, it is not likely that Congress will go along.  Instead, contractors are probably better off viewing the partial shut-down as a learning experience.  The 25 day closure may be the current record, but the fact is that it broke a relatively recent record itselfWith acrimony on the Hill at its highest point since perhaps the Civil War, and a Presidential election year looming in 2020, the smart money is on developing plans to withstand more frequent, and perhaps more lengthy, shut-downs.  Building financial reserves and planning for the retention of key workers are both critical pieces of the puzzle.  The bottom line is that if the future open/closed nature of the federal government is unpredictable, contractors need to take steps to make sure they’re protected.

PROTEST ON GSA BPA HIGHLIGHTS SMALL BUSINESS ISSUE

Whether intentional or not, GSA created a potentially sticky small business problem when it failed to set-aside specific parts of its planned 2GIT Blanket Purchase Agreement to replace the Air Force’s NetCents contract.  It now has a protest to deal with and a lot of media attention surrounding it. Perhaps one reason for the frustration is that the current NetCents vehicle has several parts specifically set-aside for small businesses.  Federal Procurement Data Center information shows that these parts of the contract have averaged about $1.5 billion a year in sales over the last three completed fiscal years.  Yet GSA’s draft RFP contains no obvious small business set-aside or small business companion provisions.  It is unclear whether the Air Force wanted it that way or whether GSA believed that a lack of set-aside protections would not cause a significant obstacle to small business participation.  What is clear is that the lack of small business protections seems to be tone deaf, at best.  Indeed, Allen Federal is aware that multiple small firms are scrambling to form teams in order to compete for the BPA, lest they be closed out of business they may do now via NetCents.  After an enviable run of being resistant to successful protests, GSA may be on a streak of bad luck.  Recent small business issues with OASIS forced the agency to withdraw awards and conduct a new competition with a revised RFP.  Whatever the outcome of the 2GIT protest, the agency would be well-advised to show a clear path on how small businesses will be able to compete on this BPA as well as other planned large procurements.