GSA’s contracts revamp could help small IT companies

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The General Services Administration is currently transforming its Multiple Award Schedules contracts, which should make it easier for smaller, more innovative companies to do business with the government, the official leading the effort said Thursday. 

The transformation of GSA schedules — long-term governmentwide contracts that provide more than 25 million products and services to agencies with shorter procurements and lower administrative costs — will streamline the process for vendors of all types and sizes in doing business on one of GSA’s schedules. But specifically, said Judith Zawatsky, GSA’s program manager for the MAS transformation, it will make it easier for “new suppliers and potential suppliers to do business with the federal government.”

“We need to find a way to bring innovation from industry into the government,” Zawatsky said at a GSA industry day. “This is really, really important … And we need as a schedules program not just to sort of be the charter, stalwart program of the federal government, but we also need take part and to facilitate bringing innovation into government.”

While GSA’s schedules are some of the largest vehicles for contracting products and services in the federal government — particularly IT Schedule 70, the largest and most widely used vehicle in government — the barriers to entry for small tech startups, which often offer the cutting-edge services agency digital teams are looking for, can restrict their access to the federal marketplace. 

In September, GSA Administrator Denise Turner Roth kicked off an effort to explore how her agency can make it easier for small businesses to find places on GSA’s Schedule 70, issuing a request for information. The agency began looking specifically at “the two-year corporate experience requirement, as well as the related project experience and financial responsibility determinations that make it difficult for many companies to contribute worthy products and services to the government,” Turner Roth wrote in a blog post.

[Read more: GSA targets vendor barriers for Schedule 70.]

GSA digital team 18F’s agile delivery services blanket purchase contract was introduced last year as a vehicle to help agencies access smaller and more nimble digital services vendors. But even that required the contractors to be on Schedule 70, preventing a number of newer companies from potentially taking part in the new vehicle. 

Kay Ely, the former director of IT schedules with GSA and now its deputy assistant commissioner of the Office of Integrated Technology Services, said this week that she’s frustrated by how the schedules can prevent smaller, innovative companies from doing business with agencies.

“When I have a vendor come to me and say, ‘I would love to be a part of Schedule 70, but I have to pay $25,000 just to have somebody help me through all that,’ that doesn’t make me happy,” Ely said at ACT-IAC’s annual Acquisition Excellence conference. Her team is also working to “streamline procedures” to get vendors and products on the schedules faster, in part by working with 18F, she said.  

Zawatsky said Thursday that in the coming months, the transformation team will be introducing five or so new programs as part of the MAS transformation, some of which are focused around bringing young, innovative companies into the government in ways as simple as rewriting the schedules in plain language.  

While those companies inside the Beltway, tapped into the federal contracting scene know their way around federal jargon and the Federal Acquisition Regulation’s authorities, she said, “believe it or not, other companies out there who are not as savvy about federal contracting but really have something they want to have the opportunity to offer the federal government.” 

“Imagine contracting that uses plain language English,” Zawatsky said. “We really need to help our partners understand how to do business with us.”

Contact the reporter on this story via email at Billy.Mitchell@FedScoop.com or follow him on Twitter @BillyMitchell89. Subscribe to the Daily Scoop to get all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning at fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Denise Turner Roth, Government IT News, GSA, GSA Schedules, Judith Zawatsky, Kay Ely, Procurement