Procurement policy spring cleaning checklist

Spring also means it is time for a Procurement Policy Spring Cleaning Checklist highlighting the key initiatives that will shape procurement operations.

It is finally spring, and the cherry blossoms are in full bloom here in Washington. Day-light savings time is disrupting sleeping patterns across the nation; neighbors are out and about; lacrosse season has kicked off; next week is MLB opening day; and, of course, I have just finished my brackets for March Madness.

Spring also means it is time to get organized and clean things up for the rest of the year. At home, that means putting together my “Spring Cleaning Checklist.” This year my home checklist includes, against all odds, turning my garage, which currently serves as a home storage unit, back into a garage.

Spring also means it is time for a Procurement Policy Spring Cleaning Checklist highlighting the key initiatives that will shape procurement operations for customer agencies and industry partners. Set forth below are just some of the items that should appear on the “Fair and Reasonable” checklist:

  • Cybersecurity. The winter months saw a tsunami of proposed rules, management memos, and attestation forms all addressing various aspects of cybersecurity. Do all these “directives” provide a coherent, government-wide approach?  Is there an opportunity to improve harmonization of the cybersecurity framework? How do firms, especially small businesses, find the resources to make sense of it all?
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI). Increasingly, AI is making its way into procurement operations.  What are the implications for government and industry? How is AI being leveraged to streamline procurement processes and evaluations? How is industry using AI to compete and win government business? And what of the data that is the “fuel” powering AI? How is that data validated and being used to avoid bias?
  • Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) Price Evaluation.  Significantly, the Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) is revising its guidance to contracting officers regarding the evaluation/negotiation of MAS contract pricing. The Coalition appreciates the efforts of FAS to maintain dialogue with industry on this important guidance. Our members look forward to providing additional feedback when FAS issues a request for information regarding the proposed update.
  • Small business opportunities. A host of recent studies have identified the shrinking industrial base serving the federal government and the corresponding impact on competition, innovation, and costs.  In the case of small businesses, while the overall amount of funds going to small businesses has increased over the last decade, the number of small businesses supporting the federal government has decreased. This decrease is a strong indication that structural barriers to entry into the government market are limiting the government’s access to the commercial market and small businesses. Over the coming months, the Coalition will be offering our recommendations on reducing barriers and increasing opportunities for small businesses in the federal space.
  • Follow-on IT GWACs and more. Alliant, NASA SEWP, Polaris, CIO-SP4, ASCEND BPA, and OASIS+ are in various stages of the procurement process. As such, 2024 will be the year that shapes the interagency contracting market for the next five to 10 years. The Coalition has appreciated the engagement with each of these programs and looks forward to continuing the dialogue on ensuring they provide sound business opportunities for industry partners that deliver best value mission support for customer agencies.
  • Sustainability. Recognizing that a significant amount of plastic waste comes from “one and done” packaging, the General Services Administration (GSA), among the largest government buyers purchasing a diverse set of products, sought information in connection with an anticipated rule on single-use packaging in products on the MAS. There are other policy initiatives under consideration, as announced in a recent Coalition Green Committee meeting by designated officers on the GSA Acquisition Policy Federal Advisory Committee (GAP FAC). These initiatives include addressing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and human health risks in federal procurement. Further action on single-use plastic packaging is expected later this spring, but vendors certainly will want to keep an eye out for the next steps associated with all these initiatives.
  • GSA’s legislative proposals. A key legislative proposal recently announced by GSA seeks to amend the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) of 1984 to adjust the statutory authority for the MAS  program by clarifying what constitutes “competitive procedures” under the law. Currently, under CICA, the MAS  program is deemed a competitive procedure if participation is open to all responsible sources, and if orders and contracts under the program “result in the lowest overall cost alternative to meet the needs of the Federal Government.” (Cf. 41 USC 152(3)). When CICA was enacted, the MAS was a mandatory source limited to products, like commodities, and the language “lowest cost alternative” was interpreted as the lowest price because price was the most discriminating factor. The world, however, has changed in four decades. The Schedules program no longer is a mandatory source; most acquisitions under the program are for services; and the products and solutions sought include some of the most cutting-edge technologies, such as cloud, geospatial, and cyber solutions. Government buyers want and need the best value solution, one that encompasses price and other factors that may prove critical in driving buying decisions, such as the unique experience, technology, delivery terms, time, and/or the solution offered. GSA’s proposed legislation would address these government buyer needs and will fundamentally improve procurement operations for agencies and the American people.
  • E-commerce follow-on. GSA has been working on the award of the next generation of the Commercial Platforms program, which was to expire last December. The program was extended under a short-term bridge contract and that extension is set to end next week. The program has become a significant channel for the acquisition of routine Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) items, as well as a means for vendor market access. How GSA moves forward this spring promises to be quite newsworthy.
  • Supply chain risk management and domestic sourcingRecently, the Departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs notified industry of the White Paper on Protective Equipment Procurement (PPE), Current State of Personal Protective Equipment Procurement by Make PPE in America Act Covered Agencies. This paper includes forecasts for the PPE needs of all three agencies and, borne of the nation’s experiences with COVID-19, is part of a larger effort to reduce Government reliance on essential foreign goods, including PPE. The government is planning to host events for industry to provide feedback on the paper and strengthen the domestic PPE supply chain. Such government-industry collaboration is important here, in connection with other supply chain issues, to assure continuity of mission, especially in times of crisis.

Based on the foregoing, readers readily can see that spring chores abound in federal procurement. Given the nature of a presidential election year, however, less time than usual may be available for all the chores to be completed. Rest assured, the Coalition stands ready to engage to offer a common sense perspective to improve the system on which so many rely.

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