Municipalities are looking for ways to reduce costs and their administrative burden. Without a streamlined procurement process, purchasing basic goods and services to keep operations running can be negatively impacted by various proposals, approvals, cost optimization, and contractor due diligence. Fortunately, a master contract framework instituted by the federal government provides the basis for easier, trustworthy purchases.
The General Services Administration (GSA) is a federal agency that manages government facilities. Numerous goods and services fall under GSA’s purview, including office provisions, service contracts, construction awards, and real estate. The agency’s mandate is to implement policies and manage basic government operations that keep the lights on.
Due to the sheer volume of government procurement, GSA leverages “Schedule Contracts” to access commercial goods and services without having to initiate individual proposals every time. Schedule Contracts are based on a standardized approval process that considers several factors, including fair and reasonable pricing, qualifications, compliance, and financial capacity. The result is long-term, established pricing with trustworthy vendors, and reduced bureaucracy for GSA procurement managers and contractors alike.
Local governments can benefit from accessing GSA’s large pool of federally-vetted contractors, millions of goods and services offerings at straightforward prices, and other established provisions such as warranties and delivery terms. Municipalities can leverage GSA’s framework to confidently avoid many of the delays and risks involved with typical RFP processes, either directly through the federal contract or by emulating it with local laws.
Local Government Opportunities – Direct GSA Contracting
Direct use of the GSA Schedule Contracts can be leveraged by “eligible users” including state, local, or tribal governments, or educational institutions. Direct contracting is typically limited to a few basic programs with targeted procurement requirements:
- Cooperative purchasing – State and local governments can utilize GSA Schedule 70 for IT purchases and Schedule 84 for law enforcement and security offerings.
- Disaster recovery purchasing – When a national disaster or emergency occurs under the Stafford Act, state, local, and tribal governments can become eligible to purchase from a GSA Schedule.
- The 1122 Program – Homeland security, drug enforcement, and emergency response programs may also enable local agencies to procure related goods and services directly through the GSA Schedule. This program spans a broader range of Schedules but a specific range of goods and services.
Participation in these programs offers the benefits of directly using the terms and conditions of the GSA, as well as qualifying for other federal synergies. Drawbacks may include the specific, restricted categories that may not meet other local agency purchasing needs.
Local Government Opportunities – GSA Emulation
An alternative to using the federal contracts directly is to emulate them. Many states and municipalities already reference the GSA Schedule Contracts in their master procurement frameworks to enable local government power purchasing.
For example, the Texas Master Award Schedule (TXMAS) requires contractors to have a GSA Schedule Contract, register it with the state comptroller, and offer the same pricing as their federal counterpart. The California Mass Award Schedule (CMAS) awards contracts based on GSA Schedules to eliminate an additional process. Other large states, such as New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois also refer to GSA Schedule Contracts but require other approvals. Each state agency might have slightly different means of implementing their GSA emulation, such as time periods for accepting contract submissions or specific procedures for amending terms and conditions.
Various local governments throughout the country use a similar approach to these large states. By implementing laws that allow for or require reference to GSA Schedules, they are introducing a level of certainty into the procurement process. Repeatedly asking for low-bid offers is not guaranteed to produce the best results, and may jeopardize quality assurance while requiring significant administrative and budgetary resources.
Benefits of Local GSA Emulation
Economies of scale benefit the procurement schedule of the federal government. Access to the network of GSA contractors and associated contract terms has inherent benefits:
- Easy administration – Procurement processes are reduced to several days instead of several months by issuing a simple Statement of Work instead of a complex RFP. When extensive fair pricing evaluations, open bid processes, business inquiries, and other administrative hurdles are removed, the local government staff’s burden decreases.
- Previously vetted contractors – Schedule contractors are compliant with federal regulations and have already undergone scrutiny for their business practices. Local RFPs do not need to vet each entity individually if they are essentially pre-approved.
- Range of goods and services – Everything from pre-constructed materials, construction contracts, maintenance services, large equipment, and basic supplies are offered within the GSA framework. The breadth of offerings provides an opportunity to perform effective procurement.
- Pricing – The federal framework establishes that fair and reasonable pricing has been negotiated with the approved Schedule contractors as part of open competition. This assures local agencies that offerings are not manipulated and have already undergone a market-wide benchmark review.
- Budget foresight – GSA contracts are long-term (up to 20 years, which can be extended). Therefore, cost certainty can be maintained for longer periods of time, eliminating continuous rate schedule revisions with different vendors and detailed budget reviews for common operational expenses.
- Quality – The GSA screening process considers quality indicators such as ISO certifications and typically requires that companies have been operating for more than two years (innovative technologies can obtain special exceptions). Schedule contractors are accepted based on best-value, not just low rates.
GSA-style buying is an obvious preference for many procurement decisions made by local governments. For example, Cor-Tuf Ultra High-Performance Concrete (UHPC) is a high-quality, cost-effective solution for local construction that can be implemented using a GSA emulator.
GSA emulation at the local level includes a few additional considerations.
Exclusions to GSA procurement Schedules include certain services that will be needed by federal, state, and local authorities. For example, construction services and management are within the GSA Professional Services Schedule, but the Brooks Act excludes Architectural & Engineering (A&E) Services from the process because qualifications must be independently evaluated and may require additional scrutiny for a particular project. Other exclusions would be defined in the laws governing the Schedules and GSA guidance documents.
If the local municipality is not directly contracting through cooperative purchasing, disaster recovery, or Homeland Security programs, local purchasing programs are likely to contain varying degrees of modifications or other terms. These might relate to utilizing local vendors and labor, or modified compliance requirements. Any additional terms outside of the GSA direct contract are not guaranteed to be agreed upon by the contractors, who are at-will for non-GSA purchases or procurement programs. Therefore, certain terms and conditions may be subject to negotiation or may modify the available contract pool.