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Understanding how interagency acquisition works can help your agency leverage the full buying power of the federal government to meet your contracting goals

Government contracting professionals have a variety of instruments to use when awarding contracts to fulfill the needs of their agencies. Most of the time these contracts are reserved exclusively for the awarding agency, but sometimes contracting officers may find it advantageous to make them available to other agencies as well. The advantages may include benefits like more flexible terms or lower overall prices from suppliers given the expanded buying power that comes from multi-agency contracts.

When master contracts like these are awarded, they fall within the general category of interagency acquisitions which provides the statutory authority for agencies to obtain goods and services from other agency contracts (see FAR 17.5). In a typical interagency acquisition, a “servicing agency” awards the master contract and a “requesting agency” utilizes the master contract by issuing orders against it.

Unfortunately, that’s where the simplicity ends. Throughout the annals of public sector procurement, different types of interagency acquisitions have arisen through new legislative authorities (most notably the Economy Act which provided the broad authority for interagency contracting) and improvements of contracting at the federal level (for instance, through the Clinger Cohen Act). There are three primary types of interagency acquisition that have spawned over the last 30 years, and we will review each in this blog while attempting to provide a simple explanation of interagency acquisitions. Let’s get started!

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Interagency Acquisitions Overview

A graphic showing the basic types of interagency acquisitions federal buyers can use under FAR 17.5
Just some of the many different types of contract vehicles. Image courtesy of Harmonytech.com

Let’s first establish some ground rules to help us understand interagency contracting. The preferred contract type to use when setting one up is the indefinite-delivery vehicle, which makes sense when you consider that a servicing agency may not know exactly how much ordering will occur from requesting agencies (quantities and service levels are indefinite, after all). There are two basic types of interagency acquisitions: assisted and direct, and they describe the degree of involvement the servicing agency has in the process. With direct interagency acquisitions, the requesting agency places an order directly against the servicing agency’s indefinite delivery master contract without much active involvement from the servicing agency. When its assisted, the servicing agency performs some activities on behalf of the requesting agency; their level of involvement is higher.

Any more explanation on the nuances of these ground rules would require its own blog, so let’s move on to an examination of the common types of interagency contracts that you will encounter in government contracting.

  1. Multi-agency Contracts (MACs)
  2. Government-wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs)
  3. Multiple Award Schedules (MAS)
  4. Cooperative Purchasing Programs (COOPs)

Multi-agency Contracts

A multi-agency contract is an interagency contract that can be used by other agencies under the Economy Act of 1932, which authorized interagency acquisitions in the first place. If no more specific statutory exists for the interagency acquisition, then the Economy Act applies, which simply means that the Federal Acquisition Regulation will apply to the task or delivery order procedures as well as to the award procedures used by the servicing agency to create the master vehicle.

When pursuing a MAC as a requesting agency, the contracting officer must produce a written Determination and Findings memo (D&F for short) and provide it to the servicing agency prior to taking any contract action. Don’t let this scare you; while a D&F will take some time and effort to produce, they are a standard contracting instrument and your agency probably has a template or example that you can use for getting started.

For a more thorough examination of MACs and how they are influenced by certain regulatory legislation, here’s an excerpt from Gov Purchase. This is a more refined resource for understanding some of the major vehicle types and their scope and importance:

Multi-Agency Contracts (MACs) are task order or delivery order contracts established by one agency for use by government agencies to obtain a variety of supplies and services (see FAR 2.1, Definitions). The Economy Act (FAR 17.5) is applicable to orders placed under MACs, with the exception of MACs for information technology that are established pursuant to the Clinger-Cohen Act.”

If an agency is contemplating use of a MAC contract order, then a written determination of “best procurement approach” is required (See FAR 17.501(a)). This determination should be made as a part of the procurement planning process, prior to any public announcements of the requirement such as a synopsis of the requirement or solicitation in accordance with the MAC’s ordering procedures.”

Government-wide acquisition contracts

Government-wide acquisition contracts
A Governmentwide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) is a pre-competed, multiple-award, indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract that agencies can use to buy total IT solutions, including both products and services.

Government-wide acquisition contracts are another form of vehicle that, as the name suggests, fall within the scope of interagency acquisitions. What differentiates GWACs from MACs is simply the statutory authority that authorizes their use. Simply put, GWACs are not governed by the Economy Act, rather they are governed by a more specific legislative authority called the Clinger-Cohen Act. Legislative and regulatory distinctions aside, they are very similar to MACs and feature the same mechanics of requesting agency issuing orders against the servicing agency’s master vehicle.

What makes GWACs unique is their origin, which comes back to the Clinger-Cohen Act. Essentially, GWACs were authorized by the Clinger-Cohen Act to improve the way federal agencies acquired, used, and disposed of information technology assets. Here is a more legalistic definition of GWAC to drive home the foundation of GWACs, courtesy of Ez Gov Opps. The site features accurate descriptions of many of the different vehicle types, among other contract and governmental purchasing jargon.

“A GWAC is very similar to a Multiple-Award Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (MA IDIQ) contract, where contracts are awarded to multiple vendors for goods and services. In a GWAC, these services are always related to technology, but the most important difference is that any Federal agency can utilize the contracts, not just the agency which awarded it.

Today, people use the term GWAC to refer to contracts whose scope goes beyond IT procurement, when in fact they are most likely referring to our third type of interagency acquisition vehicle, the multiple award schedule.

Multiple Award Schedules

Multiple award schedules are very common; if you have ever issued an award against the General Services Administration’s Schedules program (GSA Schedules for short), then you used a MAS!

What is unique about a Schedules program is that the servicing agency (for instance, GSA) will set many of them up and for all different kinds of commodities and services, from office supplies to complex software development. Unlike MACs, GSA Schedules generally have a perpetually open solicitation period; any company with qualifying goods or services can propose to be awarded a place on the MAS, at the servicing agency’s discretion and per the selection criteria established in the master contract.

MAS programs truly do leverage the entire buying power of the federal government, and because the terms, conditions, and prices are negotiated by the servicing agency at the time of the award, they can be used by requesting agencies to shorten procurement acquisition lead times.

Putting pen to paper is one of the most important steps in finalizing a contract, regardless of the vehicle that was used. Image courtesy of Schafercorp.com

Cooperative Purchasing Programs

Cooperative purchasing programs allow state, local, and tribal government agencies to benefit from pre-vetted industry partners and award contracts with task and delivery orders. Like the three categories of interagency acquisition vehicles described above, COOPs help public sector buyers achieve shorter acquisition lead times while taking advantage of price reductions that may be available due to the consolidation of buying power. Not sure where to start? Check out this Roadmap to a Cooperative Purchasing Strategy from the Professional Association for Cooperative Procurement.

COOPs are primarily an instrument for state and local procurement organizations; however, several GSA Schedules are categorized as COOPs meaning that state and local agencies may issue orders for goods and services against those MAS vehicles. A good example of a COOP is NASPO ValuePoint, which offers a variety of commodities from eProcurement solutions to auto parts to best value contracting processes. 

Evolving Procurement Through Technology, Diversity, and Cooperative Purchasing 

Buyers Guide for MACs and GWACs

As you can see, there’s a lot that goes into understanding and navigating interagency acquisitions. Despite all the regulatory nuances and special authorities, they really do operate under the same basic principles of federal contracting. Often times, the interagency vehicles will have documentation that you can refer to if you’re interested in utilizing them, so if you’re prepared to put in the work you can definitely provide value and expediency to your customers and stakeholders by leveraging them.

To get you started on the right path, we created this Buyers Guide for MACs and GWACs as an easy-to-understand document that reviews what we described in this article while serving as an index for where all the interagency contracts are located across the web. Download it today to gain visibility into other contract sites that will expand your interagency acquisition horizons. Consider it your cheat sheet; you’ll thank us later!

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