For so long, the common belief among my government colleagues was that GSA is inappropriate and took “work” away from contracting offices for the procurement of services. Primarily, those services offered on Schedules like LOGWORLD, MOBIS, PES, and IT 70 were routinely purchased outside of GSA. I remember when I worked for the Air Force that even the mention of using a GSA Schedule to procure engineering services was met with scorn and dirty looks. The Industrial Funding Fee and the fact that GSA wasn’t in line with Air Force contracting principles were the two arguments most commonly heard.
Over time, some agencies have been more open to using GSA Schedules than others. These same agencies have also procured certain products and services using Schedules, more than other products and services. As time moved on, companies arose (and we have blogged on this topic before) convincing every small business in site that they NEED a GSA Schedule in order to do business with the government. The GSA Shops provided these companies with Schedules that these companies did not need and did not sell anything on and therefore the Schedules were taken away by GSA.
However, the legend continued (and does to this day) and so the influx of proposals to GSA kept growing, and then so did the review times of proposals by GSA. Just within this year, Arrowhead had cautioned small businesses about going after a GSA Schedule. Our concerns were based around these long review times and our findings regarding slow agency activity using GSA for certain professional services.
How quickly times and opinions change this day and age. What we’re hearing through the grapevine and seeing in actual practice is an uptick in the government using GSA and GSA dedicating more resources to reviewing proposals to cut the lead time. From what we are hearing, due to the ever increasing burdens on contracting officers in their normal course of procurement, GSA is looking like a beacon of hope to get requirements met. But doesn’t that mean the government is commoditizing and limiting competition of highly specialized services? Yes, it does. But, it gets the job done from what we have been told.
We say “commoditizing” because GSA is intended to allow the government to use the services out there in the commercial world for their own commercial-type needs. However, “commercial” is being stretched and pulled to pretty much cover any service the government needs. We say “limiting competition” because a CO can just pull up a handful of companies at random from the GSA eLibrary list by SIN and choose a few to send a solicitation to. No FBO listing, no GSA eBuy competition.
Using GSA, the government CO’s can cut their processing times, avoid rate negotiations, avoid Ts and Cs negotiations, avoid agency specific internal reviews, and the list goes on. The more red tape wrapped around the CO’s, the more we hear them trying to use GSA for some of the most non-commercial things just so they can “get things done” and make their own customers happy.
Of course agencies do have their huge own MAS’s that function in pretty much the same way (DESP III for Air Force, SeaPort-e for Navy, etc.) But if you miss the boat during the one proposal time of year or one proposal time every 5 or 10 years, then you’re out of luck. GSA has rolling admissions, so the door is open to obtain this tool whenever a company is ready.
It still takes a long time (average 12 months for the most popular Schedules) to get into this game, but once you do, and once you find that customer who likes you, GSA Schedules are looking more and more like the tool that may help out both parties. Still be cautioned on if GSA is right for you, but the potential that it is right for you may be more true than ever before.