MEMO TO GSA: PRICE COMPARISON TOOLS ARE NO SUBSTITUTE FOR BUSINESS JUDGEMENT
Tools, whether of the hardware or business variety, are designed to assist people in doing their work. Properly used, tools can save time and result in a better finished product. The screwdriver doesn’t turn itself, though. The skill and training of the person behind it determines whether the tool is used properly.
It’s the same with GSA’s pricing tools. Originally designed as a time saver for contracting specialists and contracting officers, GSA’s price comparison tools are supposed to make it easier to determine the price reasonableness of any offered service or product. They were meant to supplement, not supplant, the judgement of trained contracting personnel. Substantial anecdotal evidence exists, though, showing that this is exactly what’s happening. Even prices of thousand dollar items that differ by a matter of five cents from similar products have been deemed to be “too high” because the pricing tool said so. Some CO’s simply won’t exercise any business judgement or review contractor documentation showing that the pricing tool can, indeed, make “apples to oranges” comparisons. The result is either silly five cent price reductions to satisfy a piece of software, or the exclusion of items from Schedule, but likely not other, IDIQ contracts.
Pricing tools aren’t supposed to pilot the GSA Schedule pricing plane. They’re supposed to help guide the actual pilot to a good destination. The agency needs to step up training on what pricing tools can, and cannot, do so that no one becomes over-reliant on technology and loses skills critical to the proper administration of GSA contracts.