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Friday, April 21, 2017

The anti-competitive multiplier effect of having no effective scope of contract change limitations

Canberra outsourcing deal quadruples to $390 million
The Australian Department of Agriculture signed a technology support deal with EDS in 2009 for $96 million. Since then, EDS has been acquired by HP Australia, and HP has twisted and turned and split and merged to become HPE , HP Inc, or DXC Australia.

The comprehensive managed services arrangement runs the gamut of IT services. When Agriculture took the work to market back in August 2008, it envisioned the contract would cover managed desktop, desktop LAN, midrange, storage area networks, helpdesk, Macs, and project services.

Work orders signed in December last year have now taken the value of the deal to over $390 million, more than four times its original value. And this figure is likely to keep growing until 2022 when the present iteration of the deal expires, at which point it will be 13 years old.

Despite a recent clause added to the deal which allows the department to take it back to market at any time it wants “if the performance of the services does not meet clearly defined and agreed requirements or if the value for money requirement is no longer being met”, a spokesperson for the department told iTnews there were no foreseeable plans to market-test the nearly $400 million deal.

The Department of Finance confirmed that the Commonwealth procurement rules don’t place any cap on the number or value of amendments that can be applied to a federal government contract.

"In order to ensure transparency in government procurement activities, entities are required to report contract amendments and variations on AusTender, including any increases to the total contract value," Finance said. Since 2009, Agriculture has published 227 such variations on the procurement website.

The rules also dictate “any variation to a procurement contract should not significantly change the scope of the contract”.

The procurement rules do, further, insist that “officials must achieve value for money in procurement”.

Agriculture insists it is doing so - even in the absence of any real competition. It called in procurement consultants, who calculated it would cost the agency more to run a new approach to market than it stood to save.

“The review found that the third party service provider was delivering the services to the expected level for a price that was market competitive at that time," a spokesperson said.

IT outsourcing has long been a point of controversy in Canberra, where the cost of running complex and highly regulated multi-year procurement programs often convinces agencies to stay with the same supplier for many years.

In 2015 the Department of Health switched to Datacom after 15 years with IBM.

And the Department of Defence continues to insist it is too busy to refresh its paired distributed computing deals with Unisys and Fujitsu, which are nearing the 20-year mark.
In the US, the concept of scope of the contract is taken a bit more strictly. While not necessarily determinate, a "large" price increase raises the suspicion of a change beyond the scope of the contract.

Plus, the scope of the contract is examined in the context of the contract's intent as the time it was solicited, not during some evolutionary period of the services actually performed. A comparison of the actual services presently being rendered in comparison to those actually solicited in the original contract may reveal a change in the nature, scope and character of the service of such magnitude that the government, and taxpayers, would be better served if it went back out to bid.

Also, in a rapidly changing time of technology, when the field of competition could be expected to provide newer technology at more competitive rates, the change in the field of competition can also influence what is meant by a "significant" change in the scope of the contract.

Too often, the cozy arrangements with an incumbent and a procurement staff not wanting to be bothered to "foster effective competition", as the American Bar Association Model Procurement Code mandates, results in situations like this, where there is rampant contract price inflation. No appraisal (which is what the third party review was in reality) is as tell-worthy as good old-fashioned competition. A dozen expert opinions of a horse will not tell a winner from a loser better than the race.

Contract administrators must not only monitor the services rendered and paid for, they must also monitor the services contracted.

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