Simplified commercial acquisition procedures offer federal agencies a bold and simple way to acquire services efficiently in much shorter timeframes and often at a much lower cost.  It seems ironic that one of the bold things federal agencies can do to accelerate the innovative acquisition of services is to increase the use of existing authorities. Yet as the 809 Panel noted that is exactly what is needed to enable agencies to access the services they need in the E-Commerce talent marketplace.   

For many contracting activities, the traditional default or perhaps comfort zone is often to turn to Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Part 15 – Contracting by Negotiation.  Under the right circumstances involving high complexity or high dollar requirements FAR Part 15 is the most appropriate vehicle available. Yet the approach is often complicated, far too time-consuming and in many cases under certain thresholds totally unnecessary.   In such cases, the use of traditional methods may turn out to be the least effective method to use, particularly if valid alternatives exist within the FAR.

The much better alternative may be to use existing commercial buying authorities well established in the FAR, by increasing the use of FAR Part 12 for commercial items and services, FAR Part 13 for simplified acquisitions up to $250,000, and FAR Subpart 13.5 to create very simple contracts up to $7,000,000 and $13,000,000 in contingencies.  Within those thresholds, agencies can “leverage an existing talent marketplace (e.g. Upwork or GovFlex),” as noted by the Congressionally-mandated Section 809 Panel.    

Federal agencies have a continuing need for short term, recurring or occasional services, many of which are commercial in nature.  Commercial services are defined in the FAR as of a type offered or sold competitively in substantial quantities, in the commercial marketplace based on catalog or market prices or specific tasks to be performed under standard terms and conditions.  Requirements may include training, maintenance, installation or a variety of other services.

So what are the advantages under simplified commercial procedures?  Here are just a few:

  • To save time the contracting officer may combine the synopsis and solicitation process into one simple step.
  • The contracting officer has broad discretion and certain provisions and clauses are not applicable.
  • Formal evaluation plans, establishing a competitive range and conducting discussions are not required.
  • Evaluation may be based upon the contracting officer’s knowledge, surveys, questionnaires, CPARS or “any other reasonable basis.”

It is clear that the intent of simplified acquisition procedures is to reduce administrative costs, improve opportunities for small and disadvantaged businesses, as well as promote efficiency and economy in contracting.  The FAR indicates that simplified acquisition procedures “shall” be used to the “maximum practicable extent.”  The value of this approach helps avoid unnecessary burdens on both agencies and contractors competing in the marketplace.

Under the right conditions and within established thresholds, simplified commercial acquisition procedures offer a much more efficient and effective way to do business.  For those in the federal government who choose to boldly move forward with E-Commerce solutions to acquire certain services, it’s important to remember that simplified procedures for commercial Items and services provide a streamlined, effective and ready-to-use option.  


Author — Bob Dickson is President of the Government Freelance Exchange (GovFlex).  He served as Executive Director of the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan and Director of the Office of Acquisitions at the U.S. Department of State.  He served for many years in the Senior Executive Service, and is also a Certified Professional Contract Manager, and National Contract Management Association Fellow.