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Friday, March 1, 2013

Competition in Federal Contracting: A Legal Overview

Kate M. Manuel
Legislative Attorney

Competition in federal procurement contracting has long been of interest to Congress and the executive branch, in part because of the belief that increased competition among potential vendors results in lower prices for the government. President Obama issued a memorandum calling for increased competition in federal contracting on March 4, 2009, shortly after taking office, and his Administration has sought to reduce the number of “noncompetitive” contracts by various means, including by issuing guidance on “Increasing Competition and Structuring Contracts for Best Results” in October 2009. Most recently, the Department of Defense (DOD), which generally accounts for nearly 70% of federal procurement spending per year, began implementing regulations that would promote competition by generally requiring contracting officers to re-solicit agency requirements if a solicitation allowed fewer than 30 days for the receipt of proposals and resulted in only one bid or offer.

The Competition in Contracting Act (CICA) of 1984 generally governs competition in federal procurement contracting. Any procurement contract not entered into through the use of procurement procedures expressly authorized by a particular statute is subject to CICA. CICA requires that contracts be entered into after “full and open competition through the use of competitive procedures” unless certain circumstances exist that would permit agencies to use noncompetitive procedures. Full and open competition can be obtained through the use of sealed bids, competitive proposals, or other procures defined as competitive under CICA (e.g., procurement of architectural or engineering services under the Brooks Act). Full and open competition under CICA also encompasses “full and open competition after exclusion of sources,” such as results when agencies engage in dual sourcing or set aside acquisitions for small businesses.

Any contract entered into without full and open competition is noncompetitive, but noncompetitive contracts can still be in compliance with CICA when circumstances permitting other than full and open competition exist. CICA recognizes seven such circumstances, including (1) single source for goods or services; (2) unusual and compelling urgency; (3) maintenance of the industrial base; (4) requirements of international agreements; (5) statutory authorization or acquisition of brand-name items for resale; (6) national security; and (7) contracts necessary in the public interest. CICA also allows agencies to use “special simplified procedures” when acquiring goods or services whose expected value is less than $150,000, or commercial goods or services whose expected value is less than $6.5 million ($12 million in emergencies).

Issuance of orders under task order and delivery order (TO/DO) contracts is not subject to CICA, although award of TO/DO contracts is. However, the Federal Acquisition Streamlining Act (FASA) of 1994 established a preference for multiple-award TO/DO contracts; required that agencies provide contractors “a fair opportunity” to compete for orders in excess of $3,000 under multiple-award contracts; and authorized the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to hear protests challenging the issuance of task or delivery orders that increase the scope, period, or maximum value of the underlying contract. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for FY2008 further limited the use of single-award TO/DO contracts. It also specified what constitutes a “fair opportunity to be considered” for orders in excess of $5.5 million under multiple-award contracts and granted GAO exclusive jurisdiction to hear protests of orders valued in excess of $10 million that do not increase the scope, period, or maximum value of the contract. This jurisdiction is permanent as to protests of defense agency contracts (P.L. 112-239), but only lasts through September 30, 2016, for protests of civilian agency contracts (P.L. 112-81).

Date of Report: January 11, 2013
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R40516
Price: $29.95

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