Transcript: GSA MAS

John Andre (JA): Hello and thank you for joining today's Acquisition Seminar hosted by the Federal Acquisition Institute. Today's seminar titled "GSA Multiple Award Schedules Program -- A Complete Solution" looks at recent innovations in the program and how they can serve you, your agency, and the American taxpayer in a much more efficient and effective manner. These Indefinite-Delivery, Indefinite-Quantity contract vehicles offer a wide array of efficiencies to both government agencies and vendors by simplifying and streamlining the contracting process. To support and enhance these efficiencies, GSA has created a suite of research tools and is in the ongoing process of developing Hallways; a one-stop sector driven marketplace where agency, acquisition professionals can obtain objective information to help guide their acquisition efforts. 
During the seminar, we are going to talk with several experts who can help explain how the Multiple Award Schedules Program works and address some of the questions that are most frequently asked by acquisition professionals to provide some helpful insights and tips. To address nuances of the Multiple Award Schedules Program in a way to which we can all relate, we have actually singled out an upcoming acquisition to serve as our example. I will give you the details of that acquisition now and then I will talk with our experts one-on-one about the challenges faced by contracting officers and how bringing this acquisition to the Multiple Award Schedules through GSA can result in a successful outcome. 
 
Before we begin, let me remind you that we will hold a live question and answer session at the end of today's presentation. If you have questions about anything you see or hear, we encourage you to submit them at any time using the survey link to the right of the video screen. We will collect and review your questions during the presentations, take a short break, and then return to answer as many as we can. 
 
Let's get started with our example. Our contracting officer works for an agency that routinely purchases information technology solutions via the open market. For smaller purchases, this agency uses schedules. But right now, our contracting officer faces a large and complex IT acquisition, the kind her agency would normally put out under Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 15 and she has no idea where to look to determine whether the Multiple Award Schedules is actually the right vehicle for the purchase. She also has no idea where to look to determine what advantages she might realize from using the Multiple Award Schedules or whether the Multiple Award Schedules would even support such a large, complex procurement. Sound familiar? To help our contracting officer, let's start with an overview of the Acquisition Gateway and Hallways Program. The Acquisition Gateway and Hallways were put in place for just this kind of challenge. They are intended to serve as the portal and repository for unbiased advice and knowledge in a given market that allows acquisition professionals to make informed decisions and act with confidence. 
 
Joining us today is Acquisition Gateway Hallways staff member Laura Stanton. Laura is the Acting Assistant Commissioner of the Office of Strategy Management in GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. It is there that she directs the Federal Acquisition Service's strategic business planning, performance management, category management, Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative, and Acquisition Gateway adoption. We have asked Laura to brief us on the program in general and we will also touch on how Hallways can help our contracting officer with her specific IT acquisition. Laura, thanks for being here. 
 
Laura Stanton (LS): Hi John. 
 
JA: Now, what is the Acquisition Gateway and how will it help our contracting officer? 
 
LS: The Acquisition Gateway is an online tool that will show her resources, community, all of the contracts available for her use, give her expert articles on information about buying complex IT services, and really give her a wealth of information in a number of areas. 
 
JA: But what does the Acquisition Gateway seek to accomplish? 
 
LS: The Acquisition Gateway is intended to help contracting officers and acquisition professionals perform market research. Exactly the type of task that we are talking about today. And what it really does is it brings together all of the resources that are available to an acquisition professional, puts them in one place so that the acquisition professional can begin thinking through what is the appropriate contract, how do I buy information technology, what is the best way to connect to others who have purchased information technology, and then how do I use that information to make a decision and move forward with my acquisition? 
 
JA: So, why would or should contracting officers use the Gateway? 
 
LS: Because it gives them all the available resources in one place. Rather than having to go out and look and understand that Multiple Award Schedules exists, understand that you have GWAC contracts, and then ultimately have to find market research that helps you understand how to buy information technology. You are getting it from the experts across the government all in a single location. 
 
JA: What can someone expect when they go to the Acquisition Gateway? 
 
LS: Let me walk you through it. I have a few slides put together that really take us through the Acquisition Gateway. The first thing that our contracting officer will see when she comes to the Acquisition Gateway is the welcome screen. That is where she can understand, where it takes her through and she can understand all of the resources available and the types of services that you can see on the Gateway. Once she clicks login, the gray button on the right-hand side of the screen, what that is going to take her to is it will say either Federal employees or non-Federal employee login. At the moment the Gateway is only available to Federal employees. However, at the end of the calendar year, it will be available to the public. To be a Federal employee and login, you have to have an OMB MAX ID that is linked to your PIV card. If you need more information, there is a help video available via the sign in page. Going from there, once she is actually signed in, the next thing that she is going to  see is the homepage of the Gateway -- the main page. And on the left-hand side, she is going to see the 19 different category Hallways. This includes a number of things beyond IT. So, it includes things such as professional services, cleaning supplies, telecommunications, but it also includes information on IT services, IT hardware, IT software. And so she can click on the Hallways and we will go into that in a moment. In the center of the page, what she is going to see is the project center. The project center is where she can collect information from across the Gateway and put it into a single location so that she can see it again. What that project center does is allow her to create her own project, pull that information together, and then ultimately -- it doesn't have this capability yet – but she will soon be able to share that with other members of her team so they can collaborate in the online space. Looking at the right hand side of the page, what she is going to see in the top right is community. That is where if she has questions about how to use Schedules to buy IT, she can reach out to this community and receive answers or start a discussion about how to buy IT services. On the lower right hand side, what she is going to see is a series of news articles. In addition to this, at the lower center of the page, there are additional resources such as prices paid data for products, and E-buy open. E-buy open is all of the RFQ's that have been posted on E-buy since October 2014, and allow our contracting officer to really dig through that and see how others might have used Schedules and written their own Statements of Work. It is a very valuable resource for her in this environment. 
 
So, let's click into the Hallway. Her first step would be to click on the IT services Hallway. What she is going to find there are the feature articles, the community, the solutions finder. The solutions finder is where she can say what agency she is from, what category does she wants to buy in, what subcategory, and it ultimately brings up every contract that is available for her to purchase on, including Schedule 70. She sees all of the contracts from across the government that are available for her use, and then she can make a decision about what's appropriate for her need. We also have the community that is specific to the IT services on the right-hand side of that page as well when she is in the Hallway. 
 
Going to the next slide, what you see is an in-depth look of what she is going to see when she clicks on that solutions finder. You see that there are filters on the left hand side of the page. And then down the center are the different contracts. On the right-hand side, some of the contracts have an actual contract button where she can see an online version of that contract and actually look at it. For Schedules, we have links back to the different parts of E-library to allow the contracting officer to immediately go and find the different sections of that contract. There are also links back to the pricing tool if there is pricing available, and then there's links to the terms and conditions for those specific contracts. In this tool, she can also “pin it”. So if she wants to save Schedule 70 to the top of her list, she can pin it and also save it back to her project center that allows her to then easily find the information a second time. 
 
Going on is the community. What the community shows is it connects her to others who are interested in buying IT services as well. So she can ask questions, she can understand how others have purchased IT services, and it really allows her to connect to others across the government acquisition. It is a way for her to connect without just calling over your cubicle wall and really find others who are experts in this area. 
 
Finally, we have a solution statement of work library. What the statement of work library is, predominantly is professional services at the moment, but we are expanding. This is a series of statement of work examples that have proven to be successful in the past. That gives her a start in understanding how to pull together her requirements and put them in a way that has been effective. She can download either a PDF version or a word version. She can vote up and down and see how others have voted on whether or not they find that to be a good statement of work. All these resources are available for her use as she is thinking through how does she frame her requirement, how does she understand what is out in the marketplace, and then ultimately how does she connect to the contract that she ultimately wants to use to buy? 
 
JA: You have already summarized the availability of the Acquisition Gateway and how we can access it. So let me ask you, big picture, what is the vision for the Acquisition Gateway? Where is it going? 
 
LS: That's a great question. The vision is to become the acquisition workspace for the acquisition professional. As I said, we have the project center where we are beginning to allow the acquisition professionals to use that to collect all of the information and share that with their teams, with their integrated program teams. We are really looking at not only housing all of the resources in the Acquisition Gateway, but also putting decision-support tools in there to help somebody through the questions that would reach a decision. So longer-term, we are looking to cut down on the amount of time that the acquisition professionals spend on some of the very mundane tasks around acquisitions, such as collecting, building cost estimates, trying to find good examples of Statements of Work, so that the acquisition professionals can really focus their time and energy on the critical decisions, working with their customer, and improving business support because they have the time to be able to do that. We are looking at increasing the knowledge across the acquisition workforce. 
 
JA: Great, Laura, thanks again for being here. 
 
LS: Thank you very much, John. 
 
JA: So now that Laura has shown us how to use Acquisition Gateway Hallways, let's move on to our contracting officer's next main question. Is the Multiple Award Schedules actually the most efficient vehicle for her big IT acquisition, and will it generate enough competition? Joining us now is Tommy Benton from GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, Office of Acquisition Management. Tommy has over 33 years of experience in government contracting within DOD and GSA. Tommy is GSA's lead trainer on the topic of the Multiple Award Schedules, and he is recognized as a subject matter expert on the advantages of using Multiple Award Schedules instead of Federal Acquisition Regulation  Part 15 for significant acquisitions. Tommy, thanks for your time today. 
 
Tommy Benton (TB): Thank you, John, it's a pleasure to be here. 
 
JA: Can you take a moment and talk to us about the differences between Part 15 and a Part 8.4 procurement? 
 
TB: The GSA Multiple Award Schedules Program is really a government wide contract vehicle for commercial products and services. They are already established contracts that user agencies can use as their own. A FAR Part 15 buy is for large dollar, above the Simplified Acquisition Threshold, and involves a solicitation and evaluation and award. The biggest difference is literally the use of an already existing contract vehicle versus creating a new contract vehicle. 
 
JA: So, Tommy, if you were to sum up the advantages, what would you list as the top three benefits of using Multiple Award Schedules versus an Open Market Acquisition? 
 
TB: The first advantage is that of time. With a FAR 15 buy, you are going to have to go through the processes of extensive market research. You're going to have to issue a solicitation, do an evaluation of those contractors that give you an offer. And then, eventually come to an award. With the GSA Schedules, you have already an established contract vehicle that has been vetted by GSA contracting officers. Prices have been determined fair and reasonable; you have the capability of requesting price discounts. In fact, the instructional part of FAR Subpart 8.4 tells you to request a price discount above the Simplified Acquisition Threshold. But the market research is not as complex. You are really looking at the different contractorsthat are available through the Schedules Program for competing a task or delivery order instead of creating a new contract vehicle. The second aspect or advantage is small business goals of every Federal agency. With the Schedules Program, there are over 17,000 contracts and80% of those contracts are with small businesses of some socioeconomic category. An so, an agency small business goals can be easily met by using the Schedules. And you now have the capability of having small business set asides within the Schedules Program, in addition to the small business BPA’s and task and delivery orders. And then the third I would have to say has to do with GSA is the awarding agency. If an agency has an issue with the contractors, GSA contracting officers have oversight on that contract vehicle as far as the administration of it and the management of it. 
 
JA: In your experience, does the use of Multiple Award Schedules result in an effective level of competition? 
 
TB: Within the FAR, FAR Part 6 deals with competition, and Subpart 6.102 clearly defines that the Schedules Program is a competitive procedure. 
 
JA: Have you come across, or do you know of anecdotally or otherwise, a situation in which using Part 15 is the only or the better option? 
 
TB: All government requirements are different. But, the Schedules Program is defined specifically for commercial product and services. If your market research makes a determination that you are acquiring something commercial by nature, Schedules is a possible solution. So, based upon the circumstances, with over 40,000 products and services available through the Schedules Program, it is most likely if you are buying something commercial, Schedules is a possible solution. 
 
JA: Great, Tommy, thanks for joining us. 
 
TB: Again, my pleasure. Thank you, John. 
 
JA: The next challenge our contracting officer faces is identifying whether appropriate vendors are available for the IT acquisition she is trying to create. We have asked Peter Bastone of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, Office of Acquisition Management for a description of how E-tools can be used to address this question. Peter began his career at GSA working with GSA Advantage, E-buy and E-library, teaching customers how to use these tools. Peter, first off, how can government buyers like our contracting officer here use GSA E-tools to identify what sources are out there? 
 
Peter Bastone (PB): John, it depends on how far along in the acquisition lifecycle our CO is. If a statement of work hasn't been written yet, a good first step would be to use E-library to try and find sources that are out there. Perhaps while looking up sources, a specialist or the COR could go over to GSA Advantage and start doing market research for the products. If the statement of work is already written, our CO could post a Request for Quotation directly on E=buy to the Multiple Award Schedules holder community. 
 
JA: It sounds like these tools offer a user quite a bit of choice. Can they be used by both beginning and advanced users? 
 
PB: Absolutely. These tools were designed with simplicity in mind, to allow the government buyer to find products, services, or sources directly from qualified schedule contract holders. Let's face it, today's buyer is pretty tech savvy. They're familiar with keyword searches, familiar with E-commerce. We wanted to take this conventional simplicity and apply it to the landscape of Federal procurement. Combine that with high standards that GSA contract holders are expected to have, and these tools can take a complex acquisition and make it a lot simpler. 
 
JA: Let's look at each one. What are the three E-tools? What is each one designed to do? 
 
PB: That's a good idea. Let's start with GSA Advantage, which is probably our most well-known E-tool. It just celebrated its 20th birthday. And Advantage, at its heart, is that it has always been a product superstore, ideal for making simple, Commercial Off-the-Shelf purchases that are under the micro-purchase threshold. Buyers can register on Advantage, they can store a payment method, they can store a shipping address. What is interesting is Advantage also doubles as an excellent market research tool. The keyword searches and the search results allow for customers to look at products and compare prices directly from the site. If they want to put those items together in a shopping cart, they can either save that for later, or forward it on to someone who has purchasing authority. 
 
JA: That makes sense. 
 
PB: E-library is a tool for finding sources. E-library has listings of Multiple Award Schedules, government-wide acquisition contracts, and multiple agency contracts, all listed on the homepage. Buyers can use E-library to not only find contact information for sources, but they can also look at the contract terms and conditions. Finally, when it comes to E-buy, that is an online Request for Quote system designed for government buyers to be able to procure services. It was introduced around 2002 in response to the growing need and growing service segment in government acquisition. It allows buyers to post Requests for Quotations to directly schedule contract holders and receive quotes back from the vendors. 
 
JA: Are these three tools used individually or all together? 
 
PB: You really have the choice depending, again, on what part of the acquisition lifecycle you are in. I will tell you that all three tools are simple, paperless, secure, and reliable. They meet the government requirements on competition by virtue of the fact that pricing is made public. Competition is ensured by the fact that RFQ’s are visible to any contract holder under the Multiple Award Schedules that the RFQ has been posted under. We also post our data sets to www.data.gov, allowing buyers to look through history and get a feel for the kind of acquisitions that took place in the past. 
One other benefit that not a lot are aware of is that the E-tools are useful for fostering competition among small businesses. Each of them have the ability to filter search results down specifically to different socioeconomic types, which is a boom for small business and small business goals. 
 
JA: Great! Now that we know a bit more about what these tools do, let's go back to our contracting officer who has that complicated IT acquisition. It sounds like with the help of GSA E-tools, this contracting officer should have no trouble moving the acquisition from the open market. Would you agree? 
 
PB: Absolutely. As I said earlier, depending on whether or not she has a Statement of Work written yet, she can use whichever E-tools is best suited for where she is in the product lifecycle. If it is time to just find sources, she can go directly to E-library. The E-library homepage has many mechanisms for finding sources. One can use a category drop-down, one can use the listing of schedules, or one can simply do a keyword search against the descriptions of schedules and SINs. Regardless of which method folks use, they will arrive at a set of results that they can then click each one to find the contact information for that particular contract holder. They can find the CO who is administering the contract, and they can find a point of contract for the company. 
 
Most importantly, E-library gives you access to vendor catalogs. For service vendors and for IT especially, most of these catalogs will contain the labor rates. When it comes time to do an Independent Government Cost Estimate, the ability to compare labor rates among contractors is absolutely essential. In fact, I myself have put together a couple of IGCE's using these vendor catalogs. Sometimes I know who I want to use, other times I can pick them at random. Regardless, it has allowed me to put together a solid foundation for evaluating the value that I will get and what I can expect to pay. 
 
Applying the same strategy, as I said, the specialist can go to GSA Advantage and perform similar research when it comes to the products. Advantage has a lot of information about the different buying programs offered by GSA. We have environmental programs, we support AbilityOne. The simplicity of Advantage when it comes to doing keyword search is really the core of Advantage's success over these last two decades. By putting in a product keyword the same way you might if you were searching for something in your personal life, you get a list of search results that will allow you to compare pricing from Multiple Award Schedule contract holders. You can filter the search results by price, by manufacturer, by contractor, and you can even compare different size standards to one another. As I said this is very useful in putting together an Independent Government Cost Estimate. Let's say that the statement of work is complete after performing all of this research. Then is an ideal time to go over to E-buy and post that Request for Quotation. The first thing a buyer should do when going to E-buy is to take extra care to figure out exactly which type of contract vehicle to use. Our CO here would probably do very well posting the RFQ under IT Schedule 70. The CO can then use the keywords or the drop downs to find specific sources, or just send the RFQ out to the entire schedule. Doing so may end up with a lot of quotes coming in, but a lot of buyers have been surprised, awarding the companies that they never even knew existed. 
 
JA: These tools all seem absolutely chock-full of valuable information, yet are so straightforward to use. It's almost too good to be true. Not to focus on the negatives, but what are the main criticisms that users have expressed over the years? 
 
PB: Along those lines, like I just said, there is a fear among some buyers that they will end up inundated with quotes when they use E-buy. The ability to send a Request for Quotation out to the entire schedule, and the transparency that comes with each schedule contract holder being able to see and quote on that RFQ implies that a CO will end up with more work, not less. But I can tell you that the numbers support the fact that the average quote received for each closed RFQ is three. Some schedules there will be more quotes, some schedules there will be fewer. But customers who have used E-buy have ended up pleasantly surprised and satisfied with the number of quotes they end up receiving. Not only that, there is a complaint about the complexity of the Schedules Program when it comes to finding the sources in the first place. As I've said earlier, one can use E-buy to filter down the list of contractors by making sure that one uses proper keywords, and by taking time to read the description of the SIN. Selecting the correct SINs for a Request for Quote will ensure that the right contractors have a chance to view and quote on the RFQ. 
 
JA: So, Peter, the Multiple Award Schedules offer access to over 18,000 vendors and tens of millions of products. GSA's E-tools are designed to help rein in and bring the enormity of the Program down to the field level. If you were to pick one E-tools function that all contracting officers should master to help accomplish that task, which function would it be? 
 
PB: I would say that the ability to search and filter down results is the most important key to success with using either Advantage, E-buy, or E-library. Let's face it, if you were shopping in your personal life, and you were searching against something that contained tens of millions of products, you would probably think very carefully about the words that you use to find that product and you would take time to comb through the results to find what it is you really want. Leveraging the features contained in Advantage, E-buy, and E-library, to either filter items down by price, by socioeconomic type, or perhaps filter sources down by the same parameters will help you get towards your targeted audience. 
 
JA: Outstanding. Thank you once again, Peter, for spending time with us to answer these questions. 
 
PB: Thank you very much for having me. 
 
JA: Let's bring Tommy Benton back to help answer the next question from our contracting officer who has reviewed the results of her E-tools search and has determined that while many of the vendors offer most of what is needed, no single acceptable vendor offers all of what is needed. Tommy, if the requirement cannot be totally met by a single Multiple Award Schedule, is there a possible way to award to vendors from multiple schedules? 
 
TB: John, there is. There is a methodology within the Multiple Award Schedules Program where you can do Contractor Team Arrangements. FAR 9.6 deals with the teaming arrangements and joint ventures and creating new entities. This is not the applicable Part of FAR that is addressing GSA Schedules teaming arrangements. Because, if your market research demonstrates that what you have is really a requirement that cannot be met by a single schedule, but it is all commercial by nature, and if you could possibly have a contractor off of this Schedule and then maybe one off of another and then possibly even a third, and they do their segmented portions of the work independently, then you could issue your solicitation in such a fashion that would indicate you would accept a team arrangement from those contractors. The team arrangement is a business agreement between those contractors. They each have to have their own Schedule, individually. They have to describe, to the government, what they're going to do. Which portion of the work they are going to do. They would price it independently, based on their own scheduled rates. They could have subcontractors, but those subcontractors are not team members. The entire solution, if you will, can be accomplished by a number of different GSA Schedule holders. The biggest advantage to this is that the government agency will have privity with each of those scheduled vendors. It is not a prime and sub relationship. The second advantage to that is that the rates of each of those scheduled vendors is going to be the maximum rate that any agency will pay. You will not pay the prime rates and then have lesser rated subs that you will not receive that benefit of the lesser rate from. 
 
JA: Great, Tommy, thank you for coming back to answer that question. 
 
TB: It's my pleasure. 
 
JA: Let's say that our contracting officer has decided the Multiple Award Schedules is the right acquisition vehicle for her IT contract. But the pricing, using the Multiple Award Schedules turns out to be 5% to 10% higher than she'd estimated. Our next guest is Adam Jones with GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, Office of Acquisition Management. Adam is a procurement analyst who helps develop and implement Multiple Award Schedules policy, including pricing issues. He also has extensive experience working on the Schedules Program as a contracting officer going back to 2002. Thanks for being here, Adam. 
 
Adam Jones (AJ): Happy to be here. 
 
JA: The Multiple Award Schedules pricing is considered, quote, "fair and reasonable." but it's higher than our contracting officer expected. How exactly does GSA arrive at that fair and reasonable pricing? 
 
AJ: GSA awards fixed prices for supplies, and either fixed prices or hourly rates for services. It is the role of the GSA Schedule contracting officer to determine these prices fair and reasonable prior to contract award. GSA generally seeks to obtain discounts off of the vendor's commercial pricing or commercial pricelist. And the GSA contracting officer negotiates pricing based on the schedule terms and conditions. Let's keep that in perspective. Let's put that into context. The schedulecontracts are Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity. When the CO awards the schedule contract, they have no idea what the individual task orders are actually going to look like. That means quantity, dollar values, period of performance, place of performance, warranty information and other factors that may impact price. From the vendor perspective, award of schedule contract does not guarantee any future orders, so they may be hesitant to grant their best pricing at the schedule level. In other words, there are many unknowns when the schedule contract is initially awarded. So, while GSA determines the pricing to be fair and reasonable, it represents a price ceiling. Vendors may grant more favorable pricing or other terms and conditions once there is a valid requirement in a known destination. That's why ordering activities are always encouraged and sometimes required to seek additional discounts prior to placing an order. 
 
JA: Is that why schedule prices for similar items may vary from one vendor to the next? 
 
AJ: Sure, that's part of it. Just as prices can vary in the commercial market place, they do on schedules as well. Vendors are going to make different assumptions on business volume and order level terms and conditions when they set up their initial schedule contracts. As a result, vendor approaches to establishing schedule prices and offer discounts is going to vary as well. Some schedule contractors will set their price more as a ceiling and aggressively offer discounts. Whereas others price more aggressively at the schedule contract level and don't often offer discounts subsequently at the order level. 
 
JA: In the example we are using today, the contracting officer's requirement is fairly complex and there isn't a fixed schedule price for what she needs. How do vendors price this type of service and will our contracting officer need to make a separate price determination? 
 
AJ: For many services, it is impossible for a vendor to establish a fixed schedule price. Just like in the commercial marketplace, the level of effort, skill sets required, the total price will vary from one task to the next. Just thinking about a marketing company and maybe they have a requirement for a two-page brochure or something like that, as opposed to planning an entire three-day conference. The level of effort, the skill sets required will vary from task to task. GSA looks at the vendor's proposed labor categories. They are looking at those labor categories, specific descriptions and qualifications. The GSA Schedule contracting officer determines the hourly rates for each labor category to be fair and reasonable. But it really comes down to at the order level, with a contract in hand, then the vendor can go out and look at specific statements of work and develop a price based on the anticipated number of hours each labor category is going to utilize for that specific task. In the end, it is up to the ordering activity to consider the level of effort and the proposed mix of labor from the vendor, and make the determination that the total price for that specific task is reasonable. They are required by FAR to make that separate determination, adding up all the labor categories, the prices for each one, the rates, the total price for that task is reasonable. 
 
JA: You mentioned earlier that ordering activities are sometimes required to seek price discounts. Is our contracting officer required to seek a discount for her order? 
 
AJ: That depends on the dollar value of your requirements. 8.4 requires ordering activities to seek a price reduction or a price discount on all orders or BPA's that exceed the Simplified Acquisition Threshold. This requirement applies to all orders and Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPA’s), that are over the SAT, regardless of the level of competition, the type of product or service being required, whether or not that vendor has offered a discount at the schedule level. None of that matters. If it's over the Simplified Acquisition Threshold, you have to seek an additional discount at the order level. 
 
Of course, we encourage ordering activities to seek a discount for all orders regardless of size, because there are tons of other factors that may come into play, reasons why a vendor may want to offer at a discount regardless of dollar value - the level of competition, the delivery terms, technological changes. Anything specific at this point in time for this type of order - those may come into play as well and the vendors may want to offer an additional discount. By seeking discounts on all orders, the government can take advantage of flexible and dynamic pricing that is actually in place in the commercial world. 
 
JA: The acquisition we are talking about today is above the Simplified Acquisition Threshold. The contracting officer will need to request additional discounts. How should she make that request? 
 
AJ: It is fairly simple. You just have to ask. Ordering activities can seek discounts at any time prior to award of the order. This applies whether you are placing an order directly with a vendor or issuing a formal Request for Quotes. So think about a small order that can be as simple as e-mailing a vendor or picking up the phone and just asking for a discount prior to awarding the order to that particular vendor. 
 
Your situation is a bit different since you will be issuing a Request for Quotes, or RFQ. I would recommend you offer or seek a price discount in the initial RFQ in writing. And even after quotes have been received and evaluated. A written RFQ should always request that vendors offer their best pricing with their initial quotes inclusive of all discounts. Not only does this meet your FAR requirement to seek discounts, it also puts vendors on notice that you should be coming in with aggressive pricing. You may not have the opportunity to discount more in the future, so price aggressively. After the initial quote, after the quotes have been received, they have been evaluated, you can always go back and request additional price discounts to either one vendor or multiple vendors depending on the specific situation that you are in. Vendors may be willing to offer additional discounts. Just to make sure or in order to have a better shot at securing the award. It never hurts to ask again. I have heard this from people saying it doesn't hurt to ask. You will be surprised how often this actually works. And the government can save additional taxpayer dollars. 
 
JA: You already mentioned a few strategies for obtaining discounts and ensuring the best pricing possible. Are there any other strategies you can share? 
 
AJ: Increasing the visibility of your requirement and maximizing competition. That's always a good way to encourage price discounts, and that should really start early in the acquisition process. Engage industry early and get their input on requirements. Give them adequate time to prepare for the acquisition. All that can be done before you get to the RFQ stage when you are posting it. When you issue the RFQ, we certainly recommend posting it to E-buy. Even when you are not required to buy the FAR. Posting to E-buy increases visibility of your requirement, and potentially the pool of interested vendors. If vendors know there will be a higher-level of competition, they may be more willing to offer additional discounts. Another way you can encourage discounts is doing your homework and being prepared. Get to know the industry through market research. By examining historical prices, paid data, understanding commercial pricing practices and other industry trends, you get a good idea of what you should expect to pay for your specific requirement. And even identify when additional price discounts may be warranted. Laura described the Acquisition Gateway earlier. That is a great source of information for prices paid data. The E-tools, E-buy, GSA Advantage, GSA E-library, those are other good sources of information on potential vendors, pricing, and other contract terms and conditions. Bottom line, if you can justify a price discount to the vendor, they may be more inclined to offer them. So, justify your position, do market research. 
 
JA: Can I still place an order if no discounts are offered? 
 
AJ: Absolutely, as long as you ask for a discount when it is required by the FAR, you can still place an order when no discounts are received. The GSA scheduling contract officer has determined the price to be fair and reasonable, and contractors are under no obligation to offer further discounts. 
 
JA: Is there anything else we should consider on schedule buys? 
 
AJ: That covers most of it. The nice thing about the GSA Schedules Program is that the contract terms and conditions, including pricing, are available publicly. It’s all available online through our E-tools, GSA Advantage, GSA E-library. For pricing specifically, you can actually pull down contractor price lists, and look at the pricing available there, if it is awarded on the contract. If you cannot find that information online for whatever reason, you can always reach out to the GSA Schedule contracting officer assigned for that information. 
 
JA: Fantastic, thanks for contributing today, Adam. 
 
AJ: Thanks a lot!
 
JA: So, now we have covered a lot of bases with working with the GSA and the Multiple Award Schedule acquisition process. It sounds like our contracting officer would do well to bring her complex IT acquisition to GSA using that process. One more question to consider. Will she gain any advantages by continuing to use the Multiple Award Schedules at award or post -award? For that, let's turn to our last guest, Robin Bourne with GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, Office of Acquisition Management. Robin is the Director of the Multiple Award Schedules Program Division in that office. He has decades of experience as a warranted contracting officer in Multiple Award Schedules contracts and task forces. Robin, thanks for being here. 
 
Robin Bourne (RB): Thanks for having me, John. 
 
JA: Are there any advantages or points that our contracting officer should keep in mind as she moves into the award phase? 
 
RB: I think there's several. Let's start with the file documentation. It's really quite minimal. One, you want to identify the schedules considered, the contractors considered, also, the products that were awarded or services awarded, and finally, the price paid. If the award was over the Simplified Acquisition Threshold, you are required to identify the manner in which you complied with the procedures identified in 8.4 or 5 of the Federal Acquisition Regulations. And finally you want to articulate the basis for your award description. 
 
The Simplified Acquisition Threshold also kicks in a couple of other requirements. If you were over the SAT, which is the Simplified Acquisition Threshold, and you did a limited sources justification, you need to post that justification within 14 days of award and it gets posted for 30 days and that would be on FedBizOpps. Also if you did a brand name limited sources justification, you would have had to post that with the RFQ and use E-buy to do so. E-buy is the electronic RFQ tool GSA has available. 
 
Then there are a couple other areas of post award that are key. One is PPIRS. That is a requirement for all contracts that the government makes an award over the SAT. You have to do a performance evaluation, enter it into PPIRS, and then disputes. If the dispute is revolving around a contractor's performance on the task order, then the CO at the task order level can handle it themselves. Or if they choose not to and prefer to have GSA involved, they can turn it over GSA's contracting officer. 
 
And then for any protest that involves the terms and conditions of the schedule contract, that really should be passed on, or has to be passed on, to the GSA contracting officer. The CO at the task order should understand that regardless of the performance issue, if they want to handle it themselves or not, GSA does have some leverage in addressing contractor performance. Even if it doesn't get to the protest level, if they are having concerns about the contractor's performance, they can go back to the contractor and suggest that their schedule contract is very valuable to them, they want to continue to have that schedule contract as a tool in their tool bag, then they need to perform as expected for the government agency. GSA can actually exercise quite a bit of influence on the contractor if they are not performing up to satisfaction. 
 
JA: Previous presenters have referenced Blanket Purchase Agreements. Is there anything special to note about them in regards to the post award environment? 
 
RB: I think that is a big area of advantage in the Schedules. When a Blanket Purchase Agreement is used, especially for professional services, maybe complex services requirements, oftentimes you are putting in place a BPA for multiple years. Over the course of time, you may have awarded, originally, let’s say five or six contractors are participating in multiple award BPA. It is a four or five year BPA, and over the course of time, perhaps a new contractor that is critical in that field enters the marketplace, gets a Schedul contract, but it is not on your particular BPA. We always advise the government agency putting in place a BPA to use language in their RFQ to establish BPA's that suggests that they can go back out at any time they feel necessary to replenish the vendor pool. You might have the BPA where three out of the six companies are always proposing against BPA task orders and maybe two or three are not always doing so. Maybe one or two have won awards and have not performed as well as one had hoped for. But there is the ability to off-ramp based on either not participating or not performing well. But more importantly, as new players come in to the marketplace, it is nice to be able to reserve that ability, going through the order procedures, usually it was required to go out to four more contractors, have a schedule in that area. But to add potentially new players to the BPA pool so that the government has access to the best contractors possible. This is in contrast to traditional IDIQ's where really you would have to go out full and open which would take a lot of time and a lot of resources. With the BPA you can do this more expediently. I think that is a big advantage in the post award environment for Schedules and BPA's. 
 
JA: Are there any other considerations related to Multiple Award Schedules we should know? 
 
RB: I just sort of go back to my basic message when I went out and talked to agencies. I think, as a taxpayer, that if the items and products or services that an agency is looking for are available on the Schedule, and that the companies they want to be able to consider have a Schedule contract for those products or services, then that is really what they should strongly consider utilizing. And to remember, always, ask for a better price. Technically, you have to ask for a better price over the Simplified Acquisition Threshold, but always ask for a better price. It never hurts. You will be surprised, oftentimes you will. Set up a good, strong, competitive environment. Ask for a better price. The other basic is tell the contractors what you are going to do, what you are going to use for evaluation criteria, and do that. If you tell them what you're going to do and what you said, you will probably not have to worry about the protest environment. Good luck and always remember you can call a number of people at GSA to ask questions. We have people that have come out and talk directly with the contracting officers at agencies because we want you to be comfortable and understand and get your questions answered. Thanks for having me here today.
 
JA: Thank you, Robin, for helping us understand the post award process advantages. 
 
RB: You're welcome. 
 
JA: I think our contracting officer's questions have been well answered and the information shared during this seminar has been extremely valuable to her. We hope that is the case with you as well. As a quick recap, today we have covered using E-tools and Hallways from market research, advantages and efficiencies of the Multiple Award Schedules versus Open Market, and the use of Contractor Teaming Arrangements to develop complete solutions. Finally, we discussed how pricing is determined to be fair and reasonable and why it's important to always ask for a discount. Now let's answer a few questions that you, our audience members, have submitted during our seminar. 
We have collected your questions submitted during our presentation and our guests are anxious to begin responding. Let's get to them. 
 
Question number 1 -- Who has access to the Acquisition Gateway? 
 
Panelists: Currently, only Federal government users have access to the Acquisition Gateway. However, the Gateway team have made public access a priority and we are working now to provide that access to the site. 
 
JA: Question number two. When will the Acquisition Gateway be completed and roll out? 
 
Panelists: That's a good question. We developed the Acquisition Gateway using an agile project management methodology and we are always enhancing the website to make sure it is functional for the acquisition community. 
 
JA: Can a program office use the Acquisition Gateway and get a login just for market research? 
 
Panelists: Absolutely and we encourage that kind of activity on the Gateway. It’s a really great resource for market resource.
 
JA: Our fourth question -- is the Acquisition Gateway available to contracting officer representatives? 
 
Panelists: The Acquisition Gateway is available to contracting officer representatives. The Gateway is available to the entire acquisition community. I believe a lot of folks traditionally think of the acquisition community as just contracting officers or contract specialists, but that also includes functions like the contracting officer representatives, the program users, the end-users, and any other management type stakeholders that are involved in the acquisition. 
 
JA: Very good! Our fifth question -- what's the major advantage of a contractor team arrangement, or CTA, over a prime sub arrangement? 
 
Panelists: In a prime and sub arrangement, the relationship is very tightly defined and controlled by the prime contractor, whereas in the Schedule CTA’s, the rules and responsibilities are defined by the team and then accepted by the government. If we want to break it down, under CTA’s each team member must have their own GSA Schedule, whereas in a prime and sub, only the prime has to have their schedule. Under a CTA, each team member is responsible for the duties addressed in the CTA document or agreement, whereas in the prime sub, the prime contractor cannot delegate responsibilities for the performance to its sub – the primes has ultimate responsibility. Also in a CTA, each team member has privity of contract with the government and can interact directly with the government. That is a primary advantage to the government for sure. Whereas with the prime and sub, only the prime contractor has privity with the government and can interact with the government. The prime contractor is responsible for its subcontracting activities but there's not a privity relationship between the government and those subs. In a CTA, the ordering activity is invoiced at each members unit prices or hourly rates or discounted hourly rates whereas in a prime and sub, the ordering activity is invoiced in accordance with the prime contractors, GSA contract rates. Of course, they could be discounted. With the team arrangement, again, there is a total solution being met utilizing the Schedules as the source. 
 
JA: Next question -- who writes the contract team arrangement between the schedule holders? 
 
Panelists: Well, this is when the RFQ goes out and it is identified that teaming arrangements would be an acceptable methodology of issuing a quote, the team in and of itself writes the team arrangement between themselves. In other words, this is a legal document between those team members each having their own individual schedule. Then they submit that along with their quote to the government. 
 
JA: Fantastic, one last question -- will the GSA have award schedules for construction service and specific facility repair requests, such as mechanical, electrical, and plumbing contractors? 
 
Panelists: There are no immediate plans to have such a schedule. There are several schedules which have SIN for ancillary repair services and alteration services. However, you need to remember they are ancillary in nature and the primary purpose of the schedule which has that SIN has to be in play. In other words, you can’t just order the ancillary repair and alteration services. 
 
JA: Thank you all very much for addressing these questions, and I’m sure you’ve help our audience even more. If our audience has any more questions, we will add those to the transcript, posted in the Media Library of FAI.gov.
 
JA: The Federal Acquisition Institute would like to thank all of our guests for participating today. We covered a lot of important ground and raised considerations to consider when making complex decisions. Finally, we want to specifically thank you, the viewers, those acquisition professionals that participated by watching this session. I hope you find it informative and that it will assist you in the completion of your duties. From all of us, thank you. .