GSA Contract Expedite Practices Coming Under Congressional Scrutiny

I was recently talking to a contact within the GSA (who shall remain nameless). They told me that the practice of expediting GSA Multiple Award Schedule reviews will soon be reviewed by a Congressional panel. While Congress is reviewing this practice, the GSA will uphold the normal GSA Contract expedite procedures within all Acquisition Centers until a determination is made.

What is a GSA Contract Expedite?

This practice to “bump” a Contractors offer to the front of the line for a speedy review has been commonly used for years. It is not standardized among the GSA Acquisition Centers, however, it is actually quite fractured. I have been able to secure many expedites for my clients, and in my experience there has been no rhyme or reason to when a GSA Contract expedite is approved or denied. As I understand it, the supervisor reviews the details and the expedite is at their discretion. Here are some of the common threads of the current process:

  • There must be enough Time for the GSA to review the offer (around 2 months minimum)
  • The opportunity must be Upcoming, with solid details on the release and close date
  • The opportunity must be High Priority with a high dollar amount (this is subjective)
  • The Scope must fit into the GSA Schedule (and one or more SINs)
  • The Request must come from a Federal Buyer (CO usually), not on scouts honor 🙂

Why the GSA Expedites Some Offer Reviews

A contractor receives this special treatment only in the event that a federal buyer has an upcoming opportunity and requests that the Contractors GSA Offer be expedited. This results in the Contractor receiving the expedite, moving to an immediate review, and usually they will see their GSA Contract award within 1-3 months (rather than the normal 6+ month review time currently experienced).

It is in the best interest of the GSA to expedite these offer reviews because they will receive the Industrial Funding Fee (IFF) which is 0.75% of the dollar amount used under the GSA Contract. This IFF funds the GSA department that oversees the review and maintenance of GSA Contracts. So, if there is a $10 million opportunity, then the GSA will receive $75K from the IFF, which is a mid-range federal employees annual salary.

Additionally, the mission of the GSA as an Agency is to serve the Acquisition needs of federal buyers. So, the practice of expediting an offer is arguably just good customer service, right? Maybe not, lets look at the argument against.

GSA Contract Expedites as an Unfair Practice

Congress isn’t trying to step on the toes of federal buyers with their urgent and high-cost needs. They will evaluate this practice because there have been complaints by Contractors who have had to wait longer for their GSA Contract review as a result of the expedite of other Contractors.

Shouldn’t the Contractors who do not have an expedite case be given fair access to the opportunities? By delaying the review time of one, to give another Contractor “Cuts,” is the GSA (and federal Acquisition community at large) giving preferential treatment?

This is a complex question, it is nuanced and different in the case of every match between Contractor and the unique solution they offer. To give you an idea of the complexity, here are the two extreme examples:

(1) An opportunity can only be fulfilled by one Contractor in the entire world. Their offerings is a proprietary software that they have developed to fit the specific requirements of that agency. The buyer needs fulfillment ASAP for national security reasons, and they purchase through GSA Contracts due to internal policies.

(2) An opportunity could be adequately filled by a large pool of contractors, but the buyer has purchased Open Market from a Contractor for years and trusts them. Recent policy changes now require these purchases to go through GSA Contracts. The solution is completely generic and the pool of products are all common among Contractors within the industry.

As you can see, these are two very different examples, and the big question here is: Why is the Federal Buyer requesting the GSA expedite for the Contractor? It could be for several reasons, but they tend to fall into three categories:

  • They are forced to rely on the Contractor because their solution is proprietary
  • It makes business sense to work with the Contractor (price, superior solution, etc.)
  • The Buyer prefers the Contractor (for their own reasoning), and wants to limit competition in order to maintain their relationship.

The first two examples are logically sound, but the third is a slippery slope, and one that Congress does not want to become a common occurrence.

Conclusion

While the practice of  offering a GSA Contract expedite can be extremely useful in serving federal buyers, it could be mis-used. The GSA only rarely knows what the intentions of a buyer are, and the common practice is currently to allow front-of-the-line status to Contractors who have a buyer’s request.

Congress will be reviewing this complex practice in the coming months (or years), to assure that this is not mis-used, and fairness is practiced among the Federal Acquisition Community. So, expect some FAR clauses on GSA Contract expedite practices in the near future.

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