My last blog talked about some big changes that were coming and how FAS, in collaboration with our industry stakeholders, is transforming the Multiple Award Schedules (MAS) program. Six months later, I am happy to share that we have made some great progress. We continue to enhance our cycle times, improve government buyer’s access to actionable data, and address pricing variabilities across the Schedules program with our move toward a horizontal pricing model.
It’s no secret that the MAS program is very popular. It’s so successful that we’ve seen both the volume and variety of vendors and products available to federal buyers on Schedules increase dramatically over the past 60 years. But that growth has not been without challenges, namely the variability of pricing that we now see across MAS and the absence of consistent use of Universal Product Codes (UPC-A) and manufacturer part numbers — issues that make MAS harder to use and erode the credibility of the program.
To address this, we are in the process of collecting existing UPCs to make it easier for government buyers to find and compare products and prices on Schedule. Giving our contracting professionals better tools and access to more data is crucial to both the success of the MAS program and its ability to deliver to our customers and industry partners an adaptable and competitive best-in-class contract solution.
Additional tools and changes implemented include automating price reduction modifications so vendor submissions take effect immediately on GSA Advantage and issuing a FAR class deviation that will reduce the time it takes to review End User License Agreements (EULAs). We have published the CALC tool, which allows any user to conduct market research and compare Schedule prices on professional service labor categories quickly and easily. We’re also giving customers more insight into what government is buying by opening up GSA eBuy and making opportunities posted there visible to all federal buyers.
These enhancements (and those still ahead) are fundamental changes to the way we do business with industry and how our Contracting Officers (COs) work. But this isn’t a case of John Henry and the steam-powered hammer—COs aren’t being pushed aside because automated tools are taking over their jobs. Instead, we’re giving our acquisition professionals new tools and access to more current data — essential resources that allow them to be more efficient and provide the expert guidance that helps industry partners successfully compete in the government marketplace. These transformative changes to MAS will strengthen the program’s value proposition for both federal agency customers and our industry partners.
Among the new additions is the Horizontal Pricing Analysis Tool used by GSA’s acquisition professionals to analyze price variability for identical Schedule items. Management Analyst Jeffrey Calhoun of GSA’s Integrated Workplace Acquisition Center (IWAC) in the Mid-Atlantic Region has been working with the pricing tool for several months already. He thinks this tool is very helpful because it shows the competitive range of pricing for a specific item and whether or not a vendor is proposing an offer within that range. Calhoun says that helps COs manage vendor expectations. But that’s not all. “It’s a vast improvement over the difficulties of manually checking products for pricing analysis. It’s provided us with so much more accessible information and allowed us to make more informed determinations on pricing.”
Now that the Horizontal Pricing Analysis Tool is in use, COs are reaching out to vendors whose prices exceed a competitive range, notifying them of comparative pricing with identical items on Schedule and engaging them in a dialogue about both pricing and non-price factors. And as Northwest and Caribbean Region Contract Specialist Jeffrey Sepp tells us, the tool has led to some interesting conversations with vendors. “I think it’s good we’re actually engaging vendors on a different level now. That gives us the opportunity to let them know that when they have items that are priced way outside of the competitive range– not only can that contribute to low or no sales, but it can impact their reputation among government buyers. It has also led to discussions about non-price factors and vendors improving their product descriptions.”
We know these conversations aren’t always easy. But we are hearing from vendors that the intelligence provided by the pricing tool has led to increased sales almost immediately after they’ve brought their outlier prices into the competitive range. Addressing outlier pricing has also solidified customer confidence in MAS Schedule pricing. Shay Assad, Director of Pricing at the Department of Defense, recently expressed his sincere appreciation for GSA’s efforts to rein in outlier pricing and to try and do the right thing as stewards of taxpayer dollars.
That sentiment is echoed by Greater Southwest Region’s Acquisition Center Supervisory Contract Specialist Margaret Lynch, who added: “The pricing tool is helping to close the variation gap and give our customers more confidence in using our Schedules. It’s taking out what I consider to be a lot of ‘wiggle room’and I think that’s a very good thing.”
I want to reiterate that our effort to reduce price variability does not equate to driving to the lowest possible price, and MAS transformation is not just about pricing — it’s also about giving our acquisition professionals additional resources and making it easier for them to do their jobs. Our Contracting Officers tell us the horizontal pricing analysis tool is a welcome addition to their toolbox. So welcome, says Calhoun, that he can’t imagine going back, “Now that we’ve been privy to this much data, I really would not want to go back to the old way of doing things.”
As I’ve said before, my job, and the job of FAS, is to serve the government-wide acquisition workforce. We must do all we can to make their job easier. This includes addressing pricing issues to the best of our ability, implementing changes to policy, terms and conditions, and using all the tools at our disposal to support the continued use of MAS as the vehicle of choice for the federal government.