Over the next six months, the General Services Administration will bring the first of many major changes to its schedules contracts program.
GSA is working with its vendors who provide professional services to launch the first consolidated schedule.
Tiffany Hixson, GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service’s professional services category executive, said the consolidated schedule for professional services is one of several ways the agency is trying to address agency-customer concerns.
“The consolidated concept has been really well received by both customers and industry. There are huge efficiencies and benefits we are going to gain by the time we get done with the consolidation effort. We are on a path forward,” Hixson said in an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio at a recent Professional Services Council event. “We had to slow down the consolidation process just based on where industry is at, not where we are at. We will continue to process those consolidations and hope to have the whole project substantially complete by November.”
She said the November deadline includes a little bit of padding. The hope is that by Oct. 1, agencies will be able to take advantage of the consolidated schedule for professional services.
Along with the consolidated schedule for professional services, Hixson said FAS also is looking at simplifying the Special Item Numbers (SINs) structure and addressing how to apply Other Direct Costs (ODCs) to schedules, possibly testing the concept of an unpriced schedule and increasing customer support activities.
It’s all part of how the Federal Acquisition Service is trying to make it easier for agencies to use the schedule contracts and, therefore, drive more spending toward those vendors.
$7 billion more for schedules
GSA is taking these customer-focused approaches as professional services spending decreased by 12 percent across government and by 14 percent with FAS between 2009 and 2013.
Hixson said she hopes to increase GSA’s share of the addressable spend to 31 percent of all professional services by 2017, which would increase the total spending through GSA schedules by more than $7 billion.
In 2014, agencies spent more than $9.6 billion with vendors on the professional services schedule, or about 18 percent of the government’s spend. That was up from $9.2 billion the year before, which was almost 17 percent of agencies’ total spend on services.
Hixson said agency customers and vendors will benefit from the consolidated schedule.
“We will have one schedule and our customers will no longer have to compete their requirements among up to eight schedules depending on what their needs are,” she said. “If you have a very complex requirement, understanding how to compete that across eight different contracts is very complex contracting work. By moving to one contracting environment, contracting officers really understand what that looks like. They know this is one contract and they need services from these three SINS and so contractors in that space can compete for the requirement. It really makes it a lot easier.”
Hixson said GSA had hoped to get all the consolidation packages from vendors in by April, but that is highly unlikely because vendors need more time to get their documents together.
There are 440 professional services contractors owning more than 4,400 total schedules that need to migrate. Hixson said, as of February, GSA had more than 160 in the process of consolidation. More than 50 had completed the migration. That leaves more than 200 that still need to finalize their new consolidated contract documents.
As each vendor migrates one or more schedules into the consolidated version, they receive a new 20-year contract, she said.
“It is moving into a new contract environment, so part of the consolidation process for those vendors that have one or more schedules may require our really rationalizing the labor categories that they have under their schedules. In some instances, say if they have engineers on three different schedules, we will be moving that to one labor category, if that is really in their interest,” she said. “We are really leaving it up to the contractor to decide if they need to have separate engineer pricing for, let’s say, a professional engineering SIN, or a MOBIS SIN or an environmental SIN. It really will be a one-on-one negotiation with the contract specialist based on where the company is at with their pricing models.”
Increasing customer service
While the consolidated schedules are among FAS’ top priorities, Hixson said there are several other initiatives just getting off the ground.
One of those is a new customer care office to ensure GSA contracting experts are available to answer questions and help with requirements and contracting programs.
“We are going to start hosting monthly office hours, webinars, [and] online training so we are a lot more accessible to contracting officers when they are facing a challenge,” she said. “The type of support we’ve been asked to give is looking at a statement of work and telling them if it is in scope of either OASIS or one of the schedule contracts: ‘Can you help us think through an acquisition strategy of how we may have a contractor teaming arrangement agreement for a particular blanket purchase agreement they are working on or a complex requirements?’ So we will have experts available to contracting officers to support them with that kind of work.”
Hixson announced March 30 that Kathy Jocoy would be the new professional service’s industry liaison. Jocoy will be the primary point of contact for industry when it comes to the consolidated schedule and category management effort.
Over the longer term, FAS is looking at the structure of Special Item Numbers (SIN). Hixson said agencies have told GSA that the current approach isn’t working for small-business task orders because of the way the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code works.
“We are not going to tackle that today. We are going to get through consolidation and then work really closely with our customers in industry to think through what the right SIN structure should be and how that should be aligned toward NAICS codes so we can really rationalize with how task orders are being competed today,” she said.
No FAR case for ODCs yet
Another longer term goal of FAS is to deal with Other Direct Costs (ODCs), which industry has been pressing GSA to update for some time.
Roger Waldron, the president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said in February that the inability to use ODCs across all the schedules causes contract duplication across the government.
“Contractors under the schedules repeatedly say, ‘Customer agencies say they would use the schedules, but they can’t get their complete solution because I can’t buy materials. I can’t pay for the other direct costs that I need to pay for a complete solution,'” Waldron said in an interview on In Depth with Francis Rose. “The Coalition wrote a white paper on it, provided a roadmap to addressing the issue–and granted I understand the government may not completely agree–but here is something that already was in the FAR, that already is covered by commercial item contracting and schedules that are commercial item contracts, and we are talking four years later and GSA has made no progress in this area.”
Hixson said GSA is working to change ODCs by issuing a FAR case.
But as of February 2015, GSA has not published any details in the Unified Regulatory Agenda about its plans for the FAR case to change how ODCs are applied to schedules.
GSA separately plans to create an unpriced schedule that would let GSA determine vendor qualifications without negotiating prices. Instead, Hixson said, under an unpriced schedule, prices would be negotiated at the task order level.
“We are still working through this from a conceptual perspective. Clearly, I think price will still have to be looked at,” she said. “As part of that vetting process, we would have to look at a past performance perspective–probably a past pricing practice. Are those prices competitive? Are they active in the market? And what are their rates overall? So we could give that GSA Good Housekeeping seal of approval on the pricing side.”