Steering Clear of Sole-Source Orders

alaurent@govexec.com

Governmentwide IT contracts have stirred outcry in recent years because some sponsoring agencies have allowed customers to direct their task orders to preferred vendors. Acquisition rules require that the multiple vendors in GWACs be given a fair opportunity to compete for task orders.

Sole-source orders are permitted only for unusually urgent needs, when only one contractor can meet a requirement, when the order is a follow-on to a previously competed order, or when the order must be placed with a particular contractor to satisfy a minimum number or value of orders guaranteed by the GWAC.

In September 1997, then-Office of Federal Procurement Policy Administrator Steven Kelman brought together the heads of four large GWACs in what he dubbed the "Mayflower Compact," an informal agreement on rules of the road. The compact included a vow to ensure GWACs weren't used to make sole-source awards. Nevertheless, in March 1998, the General Accounting Office and the Defense Department inspector general told a Senate Armed Services subcommittee about cases in which GWACs were giving preference to certain vendors. In April, the Office of Management and Budget asked GWAC sponsors to stop the practice.

An OMB-proposed rule expected to become final this year would prohibit "methods . . . that would result in less than fair consideration being given to all awardees prior to placing each order." A Jan. 11 memorandum from OFPP Administrator Deidre Lee further underscored the administration's opposition to designating preferred sources.

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