Is the GSA throwing sand in the gears of the multiple award schedule machinery?

Contractors and their representatives report troubles with the Multiple Award Schedule system. The MAS is the long running and very popular system for deliverin...

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Contractors and their representatives report troubles with the Multiple Award Schedule system. The MAS is the long running and very popular system for delivering routine products to the government. The General Services Administration has operated the schedules for decades. For what’s going on, federal sales and marketing consultant Larry Allen joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: Larry, it sounds like there’s big, I don’t know, sand being thrown in the gears by the GSA itself. What reports are you hearing?

Larry Allen: Tom, the reports that I’m hearing is that they’re substantial disconnect between the strategic visions set at the top of GSA for what they want the schedules to be and the line level or tax bill level inside the agency about what’s actually happening. When you talk to the senior people, Tom, they talked about, well, of course, we’re going to come up with a policy to help with inflation schedules, consolidation is nearly complete and going very well. We have new procedures in place to balance workload and get things done in a timely manner. And then when you go and have the conversations with the contracting people that are having discussions with their contracting counterparts in GSA, it’s like you’re on two different planets. I wouldn’t say that they’re Venus and Mars, but they’re certainly not the same planet, you know, there are significant delays in getting anything done. More data, perpetually, more data, if a contractor wants to get a new item at it, or that contract extended. And then, on top of that, good luck getting a price increase, even if you can justify it, at least until GSA gets around to issuing its much anticipated inflation policy.

Tom Temin: Right. And of course, everyone’s feeling the inflation right now. But it could be a long time so they can get their prices adjusted. And you’re also writing that there are tendencies by GSA contracting officers to reject applications for contracts over a minor detail instead of letting people just update the application already in there. And that resets the clock back however many weeks it took to get to that point.

Larry Allen: Right. And it does. Look, what usually happens, Tom, is that you know, somebody submits an offer. And if it has some questions, or not everything was in the original package, the contracting officer needs to see, they send a clarification letter. You know, it’s kind of a minor administrative change. And you update the offer and continue on with the process. Now, a lot of times, what happens is that GSA will just send a rejection letter that says, not good enough, clean it up, try again,. That makes the process longer and more expensive for contractors because they got to go back to a whole lot more work, do a lot more stuff. And it makes it longer for GSA. But ironically, the way the system works is it actually makes it look like it’s taking a shorter amount of time for GSA, because every time they issue a rejection, their own performance clock starts over with the resubmission of a new offer. So that’s a little time management tool that GSA is using. But it’s one that increases time and aggravation for contractors.

Tom Temin: I guess the question is, why are they making it so troublesome now? Why all the bureaucracy? The MAS is supposed to be the program of least friction of doing business with the government.

Larry Allen: Tom, that’s particularly true when you look at what type of businesses constitute the vast majority of scheduled contract holders. And those are small businesses. Over two thirds, maybe as much as 80% of contractors on the schedules program are small businesses and those businesses actually do real business. About a third of scheduled business every year is done by small business prime contractors. This is a great success story for small businesses. And yet, GSA almost seems out to be its worst own worst enemy in raising the bar and making it difficult, not just for large businesses, but the small businesses that are succeeding or trying to succeed.

My belief, Tom, is that we are seeing the GSA Office of the Inspector General play a co-program management role. We’ve had this happen for years over in the Department of Veterans Affairs on their side of the schedules program, Tom, where it’s been understood, if not well liked by VA contractors that you got to do everything through the IG if you’re going to do anything on the VA Federal Supply Schedule Program. We’re almost at that place right now at GSA. Industry thinks that the IG exists primarily to clamp down on contractors that don’t do the right thing and yet they’re very active inside GSA, done in contracting officers and contract specialists who don’t follow their advice.

Tom Temin: I guessyou could say the 1990s have called and they want their old MAS back.

Larry Allen: Something like that, Tom, yes.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners. The other thing I wanted to ask you about is the budget is finally enacted for 2022. What are we, six months into the fiscal year? It’s kind of a joke. But nevertheless, the $1.5 trillion, is there gravy and all. What should contractors do now to make the most of the time they’ve got in the fiscal year?

Larry Allen: Contractors have to be prepared to be best friends to their government customers. They have to anticipate what the customer is going to ask them for, have it ready before the customer asks for it. Whether it’s a response to an RFI or a draft RFQ whether it’s a request to, hey, what should the scope of this acquisition look like? Or a request on what type of acquisition method the government should use to acquire a specific good or service. Contractors should be ready to offer suggestions that help their customers get things done quickly, efficiently and with minimal amounts of fraud, waste and abuse, so that we can get this money that Congress has allocated, full year money as far as I can tell, Tom, and more of it this year than last year for every federal agency. With all of that the big question mark is time, and there’s not going to be enough time to get everything out the door. So what can contractors do? Contractors can help make the process as timely as possible. Be ultra responsive, be quick, don’t assume that your contracting officer knows the best way to buy something, make sure you’re their recommended.

Tom Temin: And presuming there will be another continuing resolution. And that’s going to be starting again, Oct. 1, would it also be wise to make sure that you can start as many programs as you want to, as you’re able to I should say, with your federal customer? In in that way, once it’s an established program, even if you only get $1 of it this fiscal year, it will be subject to continuation under a CR, should that occur at the end of this fiscal?

Larry Allen: Tom, I think that’s great advice. It’s advice that I always give further down in the year. But it’s worth doing right now because of the lateness with which Congress gave us appropriations. So looking to see what funds you can obligate across a wide front of projects, even if you’re not obligating a lot of funds right now, you can obligate something that qualifies as a project start and take as wide a swath as you need to in order to make sure that mission critical and other projects that have just been sitting there, in some cases for a couple of cycles, because you never get around to them, actually can get some movement, because we will have government by CR for FY 23. It’s a congressional election year. That usually means that Congress goes home a little bit earlier, so they can go run for reelection. It means that depending on the outcome of that election, we may or may not have final appropriations for FY 23 by the end of the current calendar year. So you could be looking at the scenario that’s similar to the one that we’ve seen this year, for next year. If you look at that and think I don’t like doing business that way. It makes sense to commit money to as many projects as you can, so that you can keep stuff going under what could be a lengthy continuing resolution.

Tom Temin: Larry Allen is president of Allen Federal Business Partners. As always, thanks so much.

Larry Allen: Thank you and I wish your listeners happy selling.

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