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The 2022 fiscal year got compressed to six months. To help with their crucial acquisitions, many agencies have already turned to the General Services Administration. Staff at GSA’s assisted acquisition services are busy, but it’s not too late to get in. For more on the procurement situation, the Federal Drive with Tom Temin Spoke with federal sales and marketing consultant Larry Allen.
Larry Allen: GSA’s Assisted Acquisition Service is an organization that federal agencies turned to help them with doing their buying. Look at it as an outsourced acquisition shop. Maybe the internal acquisition people inside an agency, they don’t have the expertise needed for this particular type of acquisition. Or maybe there’s just not enough of them to handle the workload. That’s certainly going around a lot this year in federal acquisition. So agencies will turn to GSA Assisted Acquisition and say, can you help us manage this, select the acquisition method, help select the contractor and then manage the project post award? Been around for a while. But really assisted acquisitions in GSA and other agencies have increased in popularity over the last couple of years. GSA itself is expecting record levels of business this year after record levels of business last year.
Tom Timin: Kind of ironic, because before 1996, all IT acquisitions were specifically done by GSA unless GSA decided otherwise. And nobody could wait fast enough to get away from that. Now they’re running back to GSA to do in many cases large IT acquisition. So is it too late to get in on the assistance for this fiscal year? And if you want to have GSA’s help, what should you do at this point?
Larry Allen: Tom, it’s not too late now, GSA Assisted Acquisition Offices, for the most part, still have some bandwidth and capability for the current fiscal year. But I wouldn’t wait very long. Some organizations in GSA are pretty full, some have some latitude, but really the thing that you can make, the thing you can do to make it easier is to do the packaging, do the pre-packaging, first have an idea about know what it is you want, have some idea about how you want to get it, maybe even some idea of two or three companies you might want to get it from. All of that pre-acquisition work, Tom, can move things along and make it more likely that you’ll have an opportunity to have GSA work with you.
Also, let’s remember that a lot of assisted acquisition opportunities are bought at agencies, bought to GSA jointly by an agency customer and a contractor. So if you’re a contractor working with a government customer, first of all, you need to look at the calendar and make sure that you’re on time. Second thing you need to do is you need to make sure that you’re working with your agency customer to look at that acquisition, to scope it out to help them put together scope of work, not so much so that that precludes you from bidding on it. And remember, contractors, even if you’re helping out at this stage, there’s no assurance that you’ll end up with the project, GSA still has to follow all the acquisition rules, which means competition. The real thing to do is you make it as easy as possible for your potential partner to work with you. And make sure you’re timely.
Tom Timin: And if you have something complex, then time is more of the essence, because pretty soon it’ll be Memorial Day. Next thing you know, it’s Labor Day, and then the end of the fiscal year is really around the corner. So contracting officers are going to get busy starting really in a couple of months at the most.
Larry Allen: Right. And it’s really kind of an anomaly that we’ve seen this year, Tom, because it’s just right now that individual offices are actually getting their appropriation number for the remainder of the fiscal year. Congress passed the omnibus bill five or six weeks ago. But it takes that long for each operational office to get their number for the rest of the year. So things are going to start to get very busy, indeed. That’s one of the reasons why Assisted Acquisition Offices are still open, sometimes by now or very soon after now, some of them send out memos saying, hey, we’re closed for this type of business. We’re open for that type of business. But it’s going to get very busy. If you’ve got a net new project that requires a brand new acquisition, and you want to take it to Assisted Services, don’t delay. That’s the type of acquisition that requires the commitment of resources, requires a lot of time to get done. It’s much easier to work on a project if it’s an extension of an ongoing project, if it’s incremental funding that you got to continue something but you’re already doing. But a new project with net new funding, you don’t have a lot of time to work the Assisted Acquisition angle for that this year.
Tom Timin: You might say there’s a long fiscal supply chain. We’re speaking with Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners. And the other thing I wanted to ask you about is this idea of best in class. I’ll just quote you new guidance from the Office of Management and Budget, and being supported by GSA directs federal agencies to consider whether best in class contracts also permit agencies to meet socioeconomic small business goals. And so this complicates the whole picture a lot, doesn’t it?
Larry Allen: It can at a minimum, Tom, it’s confusing. It’s confusing because OMB started and then GSA followed up recently with its own memo saying, look best in class contracts may actually not always be best, it kind of depends on or not they have participation by small disadvantaged businesses. This is part of the administration’s push to increase business opportunities for small disadvantaged businesses. But of course, prior to that, there has been a long push across a couple of different administrations to have agencies adopt best in class contracting. Now agencies may be left scratching their head going, when is best not good enough? And one of the things that I’m saying is that a lot of existing besting class contracts do have that small disadvantaged business component. But the GSA memo doesn’t make it seem like that’s the case. So I think there’s the opportunity here for some confusion, and also, federal agencies here we are getting ready for busy season, Tom, they’re kind of wondering, well, is the best what I should use, or should I look for something else?
Tom Timin: Because you mentioned Alliant 2 Oasis and the VET 2 GWACs and they do have small business and socioeconomic participation then, correct?
Larry Allen: They do. And those are just a few of the ones that GSA that have it. When GSA sent out the recent memo, Tom, they referenced the upcoming Polaris contract and everybody is eagerly awaiting Polaris, but that’s off in the distance and it won’t be here this fiscal year. I think GSA ought to go out and promote the existing contract it has, particularly for business that will come in this year that have those small disadvantaged business capabilities, and a best in class designation. That way federal buyers are getting the benefits of both worlds. And that’s a good acquisition outcome.