Growth in federal contracts called unsustainable

Federal and industry officials questioned Wednesday whether changes are needed to rein in the growth of multiple award contracts, especially those run by individual agencies.

In the years since a series of acquisition reforms were enacted starting in the mid-1990s, multiple award contracts have proliferated. Under such arrangements, vendors are chosen to provide a set of goods or services and then compete among themselves for individual orders from federal agencies.

According to a Bloomberg Government analysis, the amount of contract dollars obligated under multiple award contracts has doubled since fiscal 2006 to more than $83 billion in 2011. In 2006, 427 such contracts existed across government. As of last year, the number had risen to 1,182. The biggest growth area is in agency-specific contracts.

With virtually all agencies under tight budget pressure and the threat of a sequester of funds looming at the beginning of 2013, panelists at an event sponsored by the Coalition for Government Procurement said continuing that trend may not be in the taxpayers’ best interest.

“We can’t afford to have a lot of duplication of [contract] vehicles out there,” said Jon Etherton, president of Etherton and Associates, who served for 14 years on the staff of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The current situation is “almost like whack-a-mole,” said Tom Sisti, chief legal counsel at SAP. “Which vehicle are you going to use? It must be a program manager’s nightmare.”

Joanne Woytek, program manager for NASA’s Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurement contract, a massive governmentwide acquisition contract, made the case that it could meet almost any agency’s information technology needs. But the contract’s sheer scale -- about $2.5 billion in orders flow through it annually -- sometimes leads agencies to think they’re better off creating their own more targeted vehicles.

“People see what we do and because we do it all, they say, ‘If I could do it specifically, I could solve my problem,’ ” Woytek said. “They think, ‘I need to buy exactly this.’ We need to get the message out that they can do that through GWACs.”

Other agencies, she said, “are spending a lot of time and money to duplicate what we do -- and not as well.”

Individual agency officials at the event said they assess a range of options to meet their contracting needs. But in some cases, they defended the use of agency-specific vehicles.

For example, Elliot Branch, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for acquisition and procurement, said the service is on a “journey of discovery” about what to buy and how to buy it. That includes using both GWACs and the Navy’s own vehicles, such as SeaPort-e, a platform for acquiring support services in such areas as engineering and financial management. “For the time being,” Branch said, “for most professional services, SeaPort is going to be the vehicle of choice.”

Government Executive’s Federal Contract Profiles series provides in-depth information on individual contract vehicles. See the report on the Justice Department’s Information Technology Support Services-4 contract.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.