How contracting officers want to use the new micropurchase threshold

Steve Kelman's recent talk with feds reinforced his view that a $10,000 micropurchase limit opens up vast new acquisition possibilities.

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Recently I did a webinar at the request of the General Services Administration’s Acquisition Gateway for professional services, as part of their Spotlight training series, on the new micropurchase threshold. As I have blogged before, the threshold has been raised to $10,000 for civilian agencies and, through a strange anomaly that hopefully will be corrected soon, to $6,000 for the Department of Defense.

This change will allow agencies to make procurements of up to $10,000 without (if they choose) competitively soliciting or evaluating proposals, though some of the agencies that have started using the authority have chosen to develop one-page requirements statements and solicit one-page competitive proposal. Regulations implementing this change are unfortunately not out yet, but a number of agencies -- including the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security and GSA itself -- have received class deviations to introduce the change now. However, the GSA class deviation applies only to GSA’s own purchases, not more broadly for any purchases using GSA vehicles. 

The new threshold will be a boon for vendors new to the government marketplace, because they can get prime micropurchase contracts with no or very minimal proposals; they don’t even need to sign up for the government’s contractor registration system SAM. The government can also evaluate vendor past performance without paperwork. But the headline news from this change is that micro-purchases, which at the existing $3,500 threshold could in practice be used only to buy products, can now be large enough to buy simple service.

This was the theme of my webinar presentation. GSA had over 200 participants listening in, which struck me as a lot, and there were so many questions that at the end of 90 minutes there was still a pile of questions left unanswered.

I write about this webinar for two reasons. First, I do think the new micropurchase threshold provides a great opportunity for agencies, and I am eager to spread the word. (After the webinar, one participant commented that with the new threshold, he will get a purchase card for the first time, because it opens up new opportunities to use it.) But I was especially taken by the participants’ enthusiasm in suggesting specific examples for how they thought the authority might be used in their organization.

In my talk, I gave three examples of how the new micropurchase authority might be used -- for simple software development (also procuring increments of a larger project); for hiring plans to fill hard-to-recruit occupations; and for social media plans for emergency response. These examples had been provided me by Chris Cairns and Lynn Ann Casey, of Skylight and Arc Aspicio, respectively -- two small firms trying to sell micropurchase ideas to the government. I then said in the webinar I’d like to take advantage of the audience to crowdsource additional examples of possible uses of the authority to buy services.

The results of this request exceeded my expectations – there was a torrent of suggestions! Two people suggested using the authority for getting prototypes developed (one talked about IT and the other defense-related applications). Others suggested staff training in using new software applications (as well as training more generally); graphic design services; photography and video services; scientific editing; document transcription; document or simultaneous translation; remediation of existing publications to make them 508 compliant; sign-language interpretation at meetings; credit monitoring for victims of cyber breaches; analysis of chemical or other samples; and lab accreditation. One participant also asked me to remind blog readers that existing strategic sourcing vehicles might be less expensive and to remember required supply sources.

Wow. Nice job everyone! I hope agencies will take advantage of these suggestions.

These gratifying results illustrate a larger point, which federal managers should remember to explicitly ask for input. Our workforce has a reserve of creativity and eagerness to contribute and help. I hope and guess that most people offering suggestions during the webinar felt good about doing so, pleased that their brains were being utilized and that they were helping with a larger purposes. I have blogged in the past about things managers can do to improve their organization’s performance that don’t cost anything. Soliciting ideas from staff (and remembering to recognize employee contributions) is yet another example. Managers, use this more!

Finally, I would like to direct a shout-out to Maureen Duckworth and her team at the GSA acquisition gateway portal, who contacted me about doing this. They do free training for acquisition professionals -- they are planning eight sessions this year, including on category management policy and GSA Smart Pay.

Editor's note: This blog was changed to correct the name of Chris Cairns' company, Skylight.