The Role of the Contracting Officer
As indicated above, federal contracting officers have far more influence on a purchasing decision than commercial purchasing agents. Contracting officers ensure that buys are made within the rules although the end user usually makes the final purchasing decision. A dialogue concerning a typical federal buy might go like this:
End user to contracting officer: "I have met with an IT company that has the solution to my problem and no one else has what they can offer. I have the $250,000 in my budget to buy their solution. I have a specification that I developed with their help. I am under the gun from above to get this problem solved; can we get them a contract within a week or so?"
Contracting officer: "You have got to be kidding. Let's start with the basics. There are probably a number of companies that can solve your problem. I should have known about this requirement months ago. We can probably get this done in a month or so but you are going to have to get quotes from at least two other companies. You are going to have to play by the rules. Does the company you've been talking to have a GSA Schedule or any other multiple vendor contracts for IT services?"
End user: "I will check but I don't think so. Can't we just go sole source?"
Contracting officer: "No, we can't. It doesn't appear that what the company offers is particularly unique and, even if it were, the process of getting sole-source approval would probably take three to four months. We may be able to tack this on as a subcontract with our prime IT vendor. But I am going to have to insist that the prime vendor get bids from two more companies. Get back to me with an answer to the GSA Schedule question. We can work together to get this done but we have to have competition within the rules."
End user: "I appreciate your help. But my boss is not going to be happy. We need this as soon as possible."
Contracting officer: "Your boss knows the rules. He and I have been through this before. Have him call me if I need to refresh his understanding of the rules."
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