In 1996, Congress passed what is now known as the Clinger-Cohen Act (CCA), which eliminated the General Services Administration (GSA) as the sole source for acquiring information technology (IT) and allowed other federal agencies to assume a lead contracting role.
The Act was created with one mission in mind: To speed up IT purchasing so that by the time technology got to the buyer, it wasn’t obsolete. To achieve this, the CCA introduced Government-Wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs). These were to be administered by Executive Agencies that met rigorous standards set by the Office of Management and Budget. Each GWAC made awards to a pre-competed, pre-qualified pool of vendors who could then bid on all its orders.
As other agencies had specific IT needs, they could place fast turnaround task or delivery order requests against the GWAC and its pool of sellers, shrinking a years-long purchasing cycle down to mere months. This streamlined process was codified in the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) as “fair opportunity” under FAR 16.505. NITAAC was one of the first Executive Agents to be granted GWAC authority and today, more than 25 years later, we still offer three GWACs to federal agencies looking to purchase IT faster, more easily, and from a level playing field of pre-qualified vendors.
Fair opportunity explained.
Fair opportunity is a requirement that federal agencies purchasing IT products and services must follow when using a GWAC. It states that if a purchase exceeds $3,500, every company that holds a contract with that GWAC must be given an equal opportunity to respond to a request for proposal (RFP) on services, or a request for quote (RFQ) on products.
Fair opportunity is intended to level the playing field so that agencies cannot give an unfair advantage to one contractor over another. The concept of fair opportunity is mandated by FAR 16.505(b). There are other great benefits in FAR 16.505, like no protest on orders under $10M ($25M for the DoD), but let’s stick to fair opportunity for now.
There are two good reasons for an agency to exercise fair opportunity. First, the FAR requires it. Second, fair opportunity is a great way to ensure that you get the best value for your agency. As a buyer, you strengthen your bargaining position when you give all the awardees on the contract a fair chance to compete. Whether you choose your incumbent or go in a new direction, fair opportunity will give everyone involved in the acquisition process assurance that you made the right decision for the right reasons.
How NITAAC helps agencies meet fair opportunity.
Unless using an exception to fair opportunity as described in FAR 16.505(b)(2), ordering contracting officers must provide fair opportunity, FAR 16.505(b)(1) for orders exceeding $3,500. In the case of small businesses, the ordering contracting officer also must determine if there is a reasonable expectation of obtaining offers from two or more responsible small business concerns that are competitive in terms of market prices, quality and delivery unless one of the exceptions in FAR 16.505(b)(2)(i) applies.
Rather than leave it up to the agencies to determine how to ensure fair opportunity, NITAAC has designed an Electronic Government Ordering System (e-GOS) that ensures fair opportunity is carried out correctly on every order. This web-based, secure system is fast and easy to use—allowing contracting professionals to walk through the entire solicitation process seamlessly, with FAR references at every applicable step.
Meeting fair opportunity with e-GOS.
e-GOS provides streamlined IT ordering, enabling agencies to quickly upload requirements and supporting documentation, manage the competition, handle questions and answers, submit amendments if necessary and finally, select and notify awardees. Agencies control the time frame based on the level of complexities, but responses can be received in, on average, as few as three days for products and 42 days for services. Additionally, the system features built-in FAR guidance and satisfies fair opportunity to be considered (FAR 16.505). e-GOS can also serve as a database of record, as all files are maintained indefinitely or, if you prefer, all documents stored can be downloaded and printed for your official file.
NITAAC is here to ensure that every IT award an agency issues is carried out in a fair and equitable manner, according to all applicable laws. To learn more about NITAAC and fair opportunity, call us at 1.888.773.6542 or visit us at nitaac.nih.gov.