Telecommunications:

GSA Needs to Improve Process for Awarding Task Orders for Local Service

GAO-03-369: Published: Apr 4, 2003. Publicly Released: May 5, 2003.

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The Metropolitan Area Acquisition (MAA) program, managed by the General Services Administration (GSA), provides local telecommunications services to government agencies in selected metropolitan areas. Of the 25 cities in which MAA contracts were awarded as of January 2003, 15 were awarded to two or more providers. Such multiple-award contracts are a means of promoting competition. To ensure equity in the award of task orders under these contracts, the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requires that the government provide contractors a fair opportunity to be considered. GAO was asked to review, among other things, whether GSA's implementation of the fair consideration process is consistent and the effect of any inconsistency, as well as the adequacy of GSA's documentation to support the decisions reached.

GSA field offices take different approaches to awarding task orders under multiple-award MAA contracts, leading to variations both among cities and within cities. Although the FAR gives contracting officers broad latitude in ensuring that this process offers contractors a fair opportunity to be considered, GSA recognizes that consistency is important within the nationwide MAA program. However, GSA headquarters has not developed or implemented a uniform fair consideration process. As a result, GAO found variations in the processes used: principally, in the time frames used in contractor price comparisons. Such inconsistencies frequently influenced the choice of contractor. Further, because oversight was not provided, in six cases agency preference was used as a criterion for selecting a contractor, which is a violation of the FAR. Because GSA did not consistently follow a common process that ensured compliance with the FAR, it cannot ensure the fairness of its decisions. Further, the documentation for about one-fifth of GSA's fair consideration decisions was not adequate for determining how these decisions were reached. According to the FAR, sufficient documentation of all contractual actions must be maintained to provide (1) a basis for decisions reached and (2) information for subsequent reviews. Out of 483 fair consideration decisions from regional GSA offices in the 11 cities that GAO assessed, the documentation furnished for 91 (19 percent) was not adequate. Weaknesses observed include lack of stated rationale for decisions reached, price comparisons that did not support the choice of contractor selected by GSA, and lack of support for technical factors used in making the decisions. These weaknesses occurred because GSA did not establish and implement uniform guidelines for documenting its MAA fair consideration decisions. As a result, MAA stakeholders (GSA, agencies, and MAA contractors) do not have assurance that the fair consideration process was properly administered.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, GSA issued guidance to its FTS regional offices in May 2003, that identifies those acquisition conditions where use of the RFQ process is most suitable to achieving its program goals. Based on this action, GSA has established the measures it needs to determine whether and when to use the RFQ process, thereby maximizing the value of its RFQ process for its customer agencies.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of General Services should direct the FTS Commissioner to develop performance measures to determine when the request for quotations (RFQ) process best achieves program goals.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, GSA developed guidance for maintenance of decision documentation and disseminated it to its FTS regional offices in March 2003. Based on this action, GSA's customer agencies, MAA contractors, and Congress can be assured that GSA's task order award decisions will be appropriately reached and properly documented.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of General Services should direct the FTS Commissioner to establish and apply uniform guidelines for documenting fair consideration decisions that are sufficient to ensure that GSA appropriately reaches its decisions to award task orders. For each fair consideration decision, this documentation should include the rationale for the decision; (2) the supporting contractor price comparison; and (3) support for other factors considered in reaching the decision, such as technical and past performance considerations, as appropriate.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, GSA developed guidance for its task order award process under the MAA contracts and disseminated it to its FTS regional offices in March 2003. Based on this action, GSA's fair consideration decision process will be consistent and transparent, and will improve the quality and the fairness of its task order award decisions.

    Recommendation: The Administrator of General Services should establish a common process for GSA to consistently follow in reaching its fair consideration decisions under the MAA contracts, and that he direct the Federal Technology Service (FTS) Commissioner to oversee the proper application of this process. This common process should include a uniform time frame for comparing MAA contractor prices, and it should specify the cost elements (such as reconfiguration costs) to be considered in those comparisons. Should local conditions warrant deviation from this common process, GSA should document these deviations and communicate them to GSA's MAA contractors, so that all MAA stakeholders have a clear and consistent understanding of the process being followed. This process should include the management oversight necessary to ensure adherence to the FAR prohibition against the use of agency preference in decisions on task orders valued at more than $2,500.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In response to GAO's recommendation, GSA issued guidance to its FTS regional offices in May 2003, that identifies those acquisition conditions where use of the RFQ process is most suitable to achieving its program goals. Based on this action, GSA has established the measures it needs to determine whether and when to use the RFQ process, thereby maximizing the value of its RFQ process for its customer agencies.

    Recommendation: Once GSA has outcomes for these measures, it should evaluate the results of its RFQ process to identify potential improvements and to determine its most suitable and cost-effective use.

    Agency Affected: General Services Administration

 

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