The General Services Administration launched a series of new tools to help vendors and start-ups do business with government more easily.
The new programs, dubbed the “Making It Easier” initiative, are designed to speed up and more easily explain the contracting process for agencies and participating vendors on GSA’s IT Schedule 70.
What once took roughly 110 days should soon take 45, GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth said during an April 6 call with reporters.
Under the agency’s Fast Lane pilot, GSA contracting officers will continue to review new contracts or modifications and give the vendor feedback. But applying vendors should be prepared to answer any questions and give additional information within 48 hours of the GSA contracting officer’s inquiry.
“What we were looking at was primarily around process, both in terms of what the organization was submitting in terms of review, as well as the time in between, the down time within the process itself,” Roth said. “We’re still getting and looking at the same information but we are taking out any duplicative steps or have looked for process re-engineering to be able to target getting entities through the process faster.”
Vendors who want to make a change to their contracts can now do so in one to two business days, Roth said. Currently, it takes 10-15 days to make changes to a contract.
Typically, vendors interested in entering Schedule 70 must meet a two-year professional experience requirement.
The IT Schedule 70 Startup Springboard is an alternative, targeted to new start-ups with less than two years of experience. Instead, Roth said GSA will consider other alternatives when evaluating a start-up company’s offer, such as the experience of the executives involved in the project and the product itself that the company is proposing.
“You may have a senior executive who’s worked with another firm in this industry and has spun off and started another entity,” she said. “We also look at some of our younger or emerging companies that have new technologies that have not been in the marketplace for two years but again, they have other experience as well as financial health information that we can evaluate and other technical aspects as well.”
Companies can also submit financial information instead of two years of financial statements.
Entering Schedule 70 should get easier, in part, with more simplified guides and information.
The Plain Language Roadmap describes the path vendors can take to navigate the IT Schedule 70 offer process, which breaks it down in three major steps: preparing the offer, assembling and then finalizing it.
GSA plans to expand the roadmap to some of its other schedules in the next month as it collects feedback from industry, Roth said.
The recently-launched Forecast Tool lets companies look at the preliminary details for upcoming contracts. The tool lists specific contracts with an estimated award date, the contracting agency and an approximate range for the contract’s value. The site also lets users search by agency, location, contract category and North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code.
Roth acknowledged the significant risk that often comes when doing business with a young start-up company with limited experience of the federal procurement process.
She said GSA worked backward and reevaluated the current two-year professional experience requirement.
“We still want to ensure that we have rigorous and high standard of expectation of the ability for any given entity to deliver, but again recognize that the marketplace is changing and we have new, emerging technologies that are coming into play,” Roth said. “We want to be able to not block those entities out from doing business with us as well. Make no mistake, our customers come and choose the schedules because of the quality and if in any way we undermine that, then we would hurt ourselves.”
Feedback from GSA’s customer agencies and industry is driving many of these new tools and changes to IT Schedule 70, Roth said.
“The performance of our schedules is directly related to our customers choosing to come to our schedules,” she said. “What we want to ensure or need to ensure is that we have a variety of vendors who are able to deliver and bring all spectrum of technology for our customers [to] use.”
Vendors in the past have complained the Schedule 70 process takes too long and is too confusing.
Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said adding more flexibilities to the two-year experience requirement and streamlining the process altogether will enhance competition and give customer agencies more options.
“That enhances competition at the next level at the task order,” he said. “There’s more product to choose from. Companies will have greater opportunity to provide their current, latest technologies. This is a good first step in that direction.”
More than $33 billion went through GSA multiple award schedules in fiscal 2015, Roth said. IT Schedule 70 is the largest of the agency’s contracting vehicles.
But Waldron urged GSA to reconsider its pricing policies and the price reduction clause, which he said limits companies’ opportunities to offer the same new technologies that they bring to the commercial space.
GSA’s push to appeal to the start-up community comes as other agencies, particularly the Defense and Homeland Security departments, launch programs in Silicon Valley. Both departments are trying to be more flexible in their acquisitions as an incentive to new start-ups that are unfamiliar with an often long and laborious federal procurement process.