Is an earthquake ahead for a mainstay of federal procurement?

Earthquakes strike suddenly, but they are a long time in the making. We may be approaching such a moment in the federal procurement landscape, when changes that...

Seismologists often study fault lines, or what are called transform boundaries, where friction builds between tectonic plates horizontally sliding past each other.  When that friction is released, the result is an earthquake.   

Earthquakes strike suddenly, but they are a long time in the making. We may be approaching such a moment in the federal procurement landscape, when changes that were in the works for years converge and create significant shifts in what seems like the blink of an eye.   

The tectonic procurement plates have been shifting for years as multiple federal procurement vehicles are taking the next step in their evolution. This includes the expansion to additional providers for the General Services Administration’s Commercial Platforms Initiative in 2023, the OASIS+ program coming online in 2024 and a significant scope increase for the already rapidly growing NASA SEWP program in 2025. Taken together, these changes could shake-up agency spending patterns and further accelerate buying trends that have emerged in the last few years. 

Commercial platforms

Since passage of Section 846 of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, GSA has been diligently working to implement a full-fledged program. Pilot implementation started small with three e-commerce platforms showing good early adoption, and with the addition of new platforms and buying agencies, the program is poised for explosive growth. Programs like this often grow quickly, as evidenced by examples like GSA’s SmartPay program, where purchase card dollar volume grew by 50% in the first five years and has maintained a relatively steady march upward to what is now more than $20 billion each fiscal year. 

OASIS+

The program finally settled on a name that did not stray far from the original, but this second iteration represents a major expansion in at least three respects. First, the number of initial awards is likely to increase, perhaps dramatically. Second, according to the request for proposals, the program “anticipates conducting frequent on-ramps, with the goal of being continuously open.” And third, while consolidating existing scope from the Building Maintenance and Operations (BMO) and Human Capital and Training Solutions (HCaTS) contracts, the government may add scope, or what it calls “domains,” to the OASIS+ program in the future, with an eye toward broad functional areas such as business administration and financial services.  

SEWP 

NASA’s SEWP governmentwide acquisition contract for IT has grown like a rocket, more than tripling from fiscal 2016 through 2023 to now top $12 billion in order values. The next iteration, known as SEWP VI, aims to keep climbing by adding IT professional services at the contract level. With the additional scope, expect SEWP’s existing product-heavy spending mix to change significantly, with services spending rapidly increasing after the award of SEWP VI and ultimately eclipsing spending on products. 

The schedules program 

GSA’s schedules program accounts for more than $40 billion per year in federal spending, with three quarters of the spend on services as opposed to products. The program is still an ordering contracting officer’s best friend, as it enables rapid fulfillment of mission needs at fair and reasonable prices. It also continues to evolve, such as with the new 8(a) partnership enabling sole source awards. But with the shifting tectonic procurement plates created by Commercial Platforms, OASIS+ and SEWP VI increasing competitive pressure, what should the schedules program, with an advertised contract access fee more than twice that of SEWP and five times that of OASIS+, do to remain on solid ground?  

First, GSA must fully implement the Transactional Data Rule (TDR) and make data analytics the central feature of the schedules buying experience. Disagreements with GSA’s inspector general will continue to flare, but no other program matches the schedules’ depth and breadth of buying activity. Full implementation of TDR is the key to unleashing the power of the schedules to help agencies derive buying insight that drives better mission outcomes. 

Second, and related to fully implementing TDR, is securing programwide Tier 3 Best in Class (BIC) status for the GSA Schedule. Doing so provides an additional reason for agency procurement leaders to consider the schedules program as a more prominent and strategic component of their plan to meet spending goals established by the Office of Management and Budget.   

Lastly, GSA needs to work with the Defense Department and multiple other agencies to rescind the 2014 class deviation that requires ordering contracting officers to make a fair and reasonable determination when using the schedules, which negates one of the primary ways a contracting officer saves time and effort.  Better data is a key to demonstrating that the class deviation is no longer needed. 

The schedules consolidation under the leadership of former Administrator Emily Murphy rationalized the offerings, simplified program administration and created the foundation to run a unified program. To build on that foundation, GSA must make full use of data to ensure that the schedules program becomes an analytic engine that provides agencies with buying insight to produce better mission outcomes. Doing so will ensure that arguably one of the most impactful governmentwide buying programs ever created doesn’t just survive the coming earthquake, but is positioned to thrive in a shifting procurement landscape.  

Alan Thomas is the former commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service at the General Services Administration and the chief solutions officer at Leadership Connect. He served as a permanent member of the Technology Modernization Fund board from inception in March 2018 until October 2019. 

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