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Monday, June 30, 2014

Hey, Theseus!

We've learned a bit more about how the Chairman's "Leverage GSA pricing so schools can buy for less" idea will work in a recent FCC blog post.  I blogged about the problems with buying off the GSA Schedule, but it appears that the solution that the FCC and GSA have embarked on is even more complex.

I suppose I should just wait to see the final product, but here are some possible problems of the top of my head.

First, the GSA has to establish BPAs.  Here are some headaches they bought by agreeing to do that:
  1. Timing of the bid: The E-Rate rules require that bidding take place at least 6 months before the start of the Funding Year.  The BPAs have to be in place before bidding starts.  So the GSA is going to have to get BPAs in place by December at the latest for services that don't start until July 1.  How is the GSA going to feel about signing contracts so far in advance?  I guess they're not actually signing contracts, so it's not as bad as all the illegal contracts that applicants have to sign, but it's still bad procurement.
  2. Timing of installation: Under E-Rate rules, equipment can be installed any time up to September 30th following the end of the funding year.  (And if the funding commitment comes after March 1, there is an automatic extension for another year.)  So the BPA will have to cover a period of at least 22 months or even 34 months (for example FY2015-16 BPAs will need to be in place as of December 2014 and remain available until September 2016, or September 2017 if the FCDL is issued late enough). Current BPAs cover 12 months.
  3. Does the GSA know that E-Rate procurement rules forbid the specification of make and model of equipment?  Since the GSA Schedules are make-and-model-specific, I'm not clear on how the GSA is going to craft BPAs that are model-agnostic.
Once the BPAs are set up, what will applicants have to do to run a reverse auction?  In order to use, you’ll need a valid GSA eBuy username and password.  Clicking through a couple of links, I find that GSA Advantage has a registration form for state and local governments.  To purchase on GSA Advantage, a State or Local government issued credit card for payment must be used.  I can't say this for certain, but I'd be surprised if school districts and libraries can purchase a fork-lift Wi-Fi upgrade (which they'll want to do because the 1-in-5 Rule is coming) with a credit card.  And it looks like private schools get left out.

What else is on the registration form? "Businesses have the option of rejecting orders placed by State and Local government buyers."  Let's hope the BPA addresses that.  "The use of GSA Advantage by State and Local Governments is restricted to only those domains (URLs) approved by GSA."  It looks like step 1 is to have your CIO contact the GSA to get their domain authorized.  Is the GSA ready for 50,000 E-Rate applicants to request URL approval?

Note that most applicants will be going through the registration process just to make this one purchase.  

Now that I'm registered, I can start my reverse auction.  Again, I'll have to learn a new system for this one procurement, but OK.  I don't need to worry about inviting outside vendors, since only vendors listed on the BPA will be allowed to bid.  Let's see, E-Rate rules say I can't name make and model, and the reverse auction process requires that I take the lowest bidder.  So I guess I'm purchasing a Wi-Fi grab bag.  And since the reverse auction process is going to require that I specify exact quantities, I'll have to do a full network design in order to get that grab bag.

Since I did the reverse auction, do I still need to post a Form 470?  I guess I'll have to, since the Form 471 requires a 470 number.  What if I get a lower bid in response to the 470?  Can I consider the reverse auction bid alongside other 470 bids, and create an evaluation matrix, so that I might not end up picking the winner of the reverse auction?  

Since the FCC expects Wi-Fi installations at small schools and libraries to cost $6,000 or less, we can't really be expecting GSA contractors to bid on them.  In fact, the only applicants who are going to get any interest on their reverse auctions are large applicants, who can get good pricing without this song and dance.

Who's going to figure out how these reverse auctions fit into state purchasing laws?  Is a bid involving only firms on a GSA BPA going to satisfy state bidding requirements?  Don't bet on it.

This procurement labyrinth means the hydra and chimera have been joined by a minotaur: it has a GSA BPA for its body and a bidding process for its head.  The good news is that at least applicants will be able to ignore this beast.

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