Despite flagging sales numbers and migration of business to other IDIQ vehicles, GSA last week announced its intent to take two new steps that will increase contractor cost, while providing data that will be of questionable use to government customers. Small businesses will be especially hard hit by these requirements, but companies of all sizes in the two areas will see costs increase, even as the federal market overall remains flat.
First, it was announced that the Transactional Data Reporting (TDR) requirement will be coming to the Professional Services Schedule. Readers may recall that TDR data is ultimately intended to enable customers to make “apples to apples” comparisons between prices paid for recent projects and those being planned. How this will work in the complex world of professional services is unknown. Labor categories, rates, and how they are combined vary substantially from project to project and from contractor to contractor. No two service acquisitions are alike. Raw data on single labor categories that could potentially be backed out would result in numbers that are totally misleading when read out of context. As such, it is truly difficult to see how Professional Services TDR data could be of much value to customers. This exercise seems to be an expensive attempt to provide data that will ultimately confuse potential Schedule buyers.
GSA also issued a Request for Information (RFI) on its plan to re-open the Schedule 75 Office Products Schedule, sort of. The agency’s plan here is to essentially graft elements of the OS3 strategic sourcing contract onto a new SIN for Schedule 75. This would be the only SIN open for new offers. The RFI and accompanying statements from GSA make clear that the agency expects companies to lower prices, while increasing contract requirements. In addition to TDR reporting, the new Schedule SIN will require greater OCONUS shipping capability and the provision of agency-specific spending reports. These are just a few of the 16 total contractor requirements we counted in reading the RFI. Contractors that want to participate in the new Schedule will have to do more, but would be required to charge less. In the increasingly competitive and automated world of office supply acquisition, GSA’s approach seems destined to encourage small businesses, or any company that needs to operate on a reasonable margin, to use other channels to reach their federal customers.
CO’s HEAR YOU KNOCKING, BUT YOU CAN’T COME IN: Sometimes the response to “can we talk?” is “no”. Despite two rounds of OMB-sponsored Myth Busters campaigns and three rounds of DOD’s Better Buying Power initiative, industry-government communication remains a challenge. Education of the acquisition workforce was thought to be the answer to that problem, but it is clear now that is not the case. Acquisition officials know they can – and are in fact encouraged to– speak with industry, but they don’t. Anecdotal evidence suggests that reasons vary. Workload is one, but so, too, is the feeling that more than “hello” will land an official in front of their IG, no matter how many memos and directives that say otherwise. What next? How about making industry discussions a measureable part of the acquisition planning process? We know that “what gets measured, gets done”, so requiring discussions with industry in the planning and market research phases might be one way to ensure feds get input from industry on the latest technology and solutions. Is communication an end to itself? Of course not. Communication only works when it is part of a process that results in a workable solution. Solutions tend to me more workable, though, when responsible communication is built in.