It’s been a year since the Office of Federal Procurement Policy released and accepted comments on its draft circular around category management.
With little-to-no activity on the draft circular over the past year, it seems OFPP is taking a less permanent route to further institutionalize this approach to buying.
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Federal News Radio has learned OFPP sent a draft memo out for comment across the agencies earlier this summer, focusing on demand management and “best-in-class contracts.”
Several sources confirmed agencies submitted comments and OFPP is reviewing them.
Government sources familiar with the draft memo say OFPP wants agencies to set goals for using “best-in-class contracts,” and implement demand management by analyzing procurement data and making decisions on who to buy from and how to buy from those vendors.
One source said the draft memo would require agencies to negotiate with OFPP a percentage of work that would have to go through some of the currently 29 governmentwide, multiple-award contracts that have been designated “best-in-class.” These include several General Services Administration contracts, such as OASIS for professional services and Alliant for IT services, as well as the governmentwide acquisition contracts run by NASA and the National Institutes of Health.
“Each agency’s goal would be different because it would be based on what you buy and what you think you should be buying,” said the source, who requested anonymity in order to speak about the pre-decisional memo. “OFPP will look at what you bought in the past and determine what percentage should be bought through these contracts. You will then negotiate with OFPP, much the same way we do with small business goals.”
Multiple government sources say they have real concerns about the memo and have expressed them to OFPP.
Another government source familiar with the memo said they are not a fan of the “best-in-class” designation because it’s based too much on labor rates or categories, and not based on whether the vendor can do the work the agency needs.
“To be ‘best-in-class,’ you have to demonstrate that the vendor is best in class,” the source said. “I understand using it for some things, like delivery services, but for anything mission-related or more complicated, I’m not sure you can just look at the basic information and decide a contract is ‘best-in-class.’”
Lesley Field, the acting OFPP administrator — who, by the way, has been acting for more than a year— said at the Professional Services Council’s Vision Forecast Conference on Nov. 2 that agencies use rigorous criteria to determine “best-in-class.”
“We developed the requirements with a lot of government agencies in mind. It’s not just one agency, but there were customers at the table helping with the requirements,” Field said. “We want to take advantage of volume pricing. We want to have benchmarks for what industry is driving toward. We want to make sure is there data-driven demand and we have to validate our savings methodologies.”
But the criteria for “best-in-class,” according to GSA’s website, are much less rigorous than what Field described.
GSA says to be “best-in-class” a contract must:
Field said OFPP, GSA and other agencies look at those contracts to make sure they meet all these criteria as well as others, such as ensuring they support contracting with small businesses.
Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, said his members and others in the federal community are concerned about the impact the “best-in-class” designation could have on the marketplace.
“To the extent that ‘best-in-class’ contracts are selected, it’s like picking winners and losers. It could lead to less competition and higher prices in the long run,” Waldron said. “Industry also is scratching their collective heads about what criteria should be used, and even if it’s the right idea. Best-in-class predisposes that it’s the right way to go, but what if it’s a platform or new idea instead of just a contract?”
Waldron said the Federal Acquisition Regulations already tell agencies there are priority sources of supply, so if OFPP wants to hold agencies accountable for using these “best-in-class” contracts, what does it mean for the small business community?
“Is best-in-class establishing a different framework for priorities?” he said. “We don’t understand why OFPP isn’t going through a typical rulemaking process. The Obama administration put out the circular and asked for some comment on it. We submitted a series of comments and questions, and to date, we’ve received no response from the executive branch. I’m not sure how OFPP can implement category management and best-in-class without addressing industry questions and concerns. It doesn’t demonstrate a real partnership.”
Industry isn’t the only place where collaboration may be falling short.
The second government source said OFPP has talked — but not to the acquisition community — about category management and the use of “best-in-class” contracts.
“I’ve been told our comments will be addressed,” the source said. “This is a leftover initiative from the last administration and they are just keeping it going without taking a new look at the effort.”
Sources said OFPP should bring the Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council together to discuss category management and what “best-in-class” really means before creating what some may view as a mandate to use these designated contracts.
Government and industry experts say OFPP should reconsider what “best-in-class” really means.
The government source said maybe it’s around acquisition practices and not contracts.
Waldron said maybe OFPP should consider identifying key characteristics of contracts to drive the best value.
“The only thing we have is criteria that were identified in the draft circular that are all process-driven, not outcome-driven,” he said. “Plus, the definition of best-in-class in government seems to be different than best-in-class in the private sector.”
Sources say one problem with the entire category management effort is it’s being driven by GSA and they stand to gain from the effort.
The first government source said OFPP needs to be more flexible in how it requires agencies to use these contracts. The source said they can’t understand how the GSA Schedules are considered “best-in-class,” given how many vendors there are and the fact that the prices aren’t great to start.
“The way GSA negotiates them means you are not getting the best price, because anyone can get on it as long as you are a legitimate company, you don’t have any failed past performance and can offer a decent price,” the source said. “To me, ‘best-in-class’ means you negotiated and are getting a good deal. Best-in-class should minimize my work and Schedule 70 doesn’t do that, and that’s where I get a little nervous because OFPP is going to an extreme. Best-in-class should be contracts that are products or services that are proven, efficient and cost-effective. You are after quality, timely delivery and cost-effective buying. Right now, the criteria is too loosely written.”