Concerns Regarding the Potential Elimination of Continuous Open Seasons

On Wednesday the Coalition submitted comments in response to GSA’s Federal Register Notice regarding the Federal Acquisition Service’s (FAS’s) intent to institute a Demand Based Model (DBM). Central to the DBM is the prospect of FAS eliminating continuous open seasons for selected schedule solicitations. As stated in our comments to GSA, although the Coalition appreciates GSA’s focus on improving the overall management of the Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program, the Coalition opposes closing schedules from new commercial offers. This blog post further elaborates on our concerns regarding the potential elimination of continuous open seasons.

Continuous open seasons are foundational to the success of the MAS program. It sets the MAS program apart from all other government-wide contracting programs demonstrating faith in the commercial market’s ability to meet customer agency needs. Through the MAS program, customer agencies have continued access to the latest commercial services and products. Commercial firms seeking to enter the federal marketplace have an ongoing, continuous opportunity to submit, offer and compete for government requirements. As a result, commercial firms bring their latest services and products to the federal marketplace through the MAS program. This enhances competition, increases efficiency and reduces customer agency costs. The success of the MAS program is based on the flexibility, innovation and competition inherent in the commercial marketplace.

Moreover, continuous open seasons are consistent with the statutory framework authorizing the MAS program as a competitive procedure under the Competition in Contracting Act (CICA). The MAS program is considered a competitive procedure under CICA as long as contracts and orders are open to all sources. Continuous open seasons ensure that the program is open to all potential sources wishing to submit an offer.

Continuous open seasons support small, medium and large firms seeking to enter the federal marketplace. In particular, the MAS program provides a low-cost entry point for emerging small business concerns. Historically, at least one third of the dollar value of orders under the MAS program have gone to small business on an annual basis. Closing schedules for new offers will likely significantly reduce opportunities for small business. At the same time, the MAS program is increasingly vital in providing opportunities to medium-sized businesses. These business opportunities translate into hundreds of thousands of jobs across the private sector. By closing solicitations for new offers, GSA will make it more difficult for contractors to team across schedule contracts to meet customer agency needs. It will also likely restrict the ability of commercial firms to bring new products or services to the MAS program and reduce choice for customer agencies. If choice is reduced where will customer agencies go to meet their requirements?

Finally, in lieu of closing solicitations, there are other steps that can be taken to address workload issues in the MAS program. The Coalition has highlighted these steps through prior blog posts and in conversations with GSA. These steps include the following:

  • Merge solicitations and restructure the SINs to increase the efficiency of the proposal process. Merging solicitations would allow for increased standardization and create consistency across the MAS program which will reduce transactional costs for both GSA and contractors/offerors.
  • Reinvigorate Consolidated or Corporate Schedules to allow contractors the improved option to merge their existing schedule contracts into a single Consolidated/Corporate contract. Many firms hold multiple contracts across various schedules but would be interested in consolidating to a single schedule in order to reduce administrative costs. This would benefit GSA, customer agencies and the contractors.
  • Update the pricing practices and policies and proposal preparation guidance to better reflect commercial practice. The current pricing practices are outdated. As a result, FAS acquisition centers have crafted unique guidance regarding price negotiations. There is a lack of consistency across centers and from one contracting officer to another. This increase FAS’s costs as well as contractor/offer costs.
  • Conduct a pilot project for a new Competitive Services Schedule for Professional IT Services where pricing is set via competition at the order level as recommended by the Acquisition Advisory Panel (AAP). The AAP found that pricing for services is increasingly requirement specific, focusing on creating a framework for enhanced competition and innovation at the task order level rather than pricing at the contract level. GSA could conduct such a pilot and assess the results to see if such an approach would improve program performance.
  • Address low or no sales contracts in accordance with existing MAS contract terms and procedures. For at least 15 years, MAS contracts have included terms that address low or no sales contracts. As such, GSA already has the authority and mechanism to address the number of MAS contracts.

The Coalition looks forward to continuing the dialogue with GSA on improving the MAS program.

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