It was bound to happen. The Category Management program that started at the Office of Management and Budget to identify “preferred” contract vehicles is now lingering into “mandatory” territory. A proposed rule that would require federal buyers to justify the use of any non-preferred contract and rhetoric from OMB in recent days both point to an attempt to require the acquisition community to use only a few, ordained contract methods. This could be the biggest mistake OMB makes with CM.
Buyers, whether federal or private sector, will generally go along with a “preferred” program, especially if it is derived from best practices and appears to allow for flexibility in specific circumstances. Early indications are that many agencies are, for example, using the preferred contracts for desktop and laptop computers. Force those buyers to do something, though, and they’ll find interesting ways to do anything else. Federal acquisition history has multiple examples of attempts at mandatory contract use where individual agencies and by-passed contractors ended up developing alternatives that worked better and cost less.

Ironically, CM seems to be taking hold in some agencies and has had a decent chance of outliving the current administration. The “carrot” approach just sits better. If OMB wants to ensure CM’s death, however, they should proceed with their mandatory use initiatives and look on in 2017 as a new leaders go in quite different directions.