Buying test equipment under GSA schedules

March 1, 2005
Those in the military, federal agencies, federal contractors, as well as a state and local government agencies should give serious thought to buying electronic test and measurement equipment using GSA schedules.

By Peter Ostrow

Those in the military, federal agencies, federal contractors, as well as a state and local government agencies should give serious thought to buying electronic test and measurement equipment using GSA schedules. GSA schedules offer customers millions of state-of-the-art high-quality commercial products and services at volume discount pricing with direct-delivery. This includes a broad selection of RF, microwave, and communications test equipment, along with the accessories needed to use or deploy such equipment.

All customers, even those in remote locations, are provided with the latest technology, quality services and products, convenience, and most-favored customer pricing. GSA schedules also can offer the benefits of relatively short lead times, low administrative costs, and reduced inventories. Using the schedules can help agencies meet small-business goals, while promoting compliance with various environmental and socioeconomic laws and regulations.

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) was established in 1949 under section 101 of the Federal Property and Administration Services Act. The result of a presidential commission chaired by former President Herbert Hoover, GSA consolidated four smaller agencies into one comprehensive agency with the goal of avoiding “senseless duplication, excess cost, and confusion in handling supplies,” as well as to provide space for the government to do its work.

The GSA Schedules Program establishes long-term government-wide contracts with commercial firms to provide ordering offices with access to more than four million commercial services and products that can be ordered directly from GSA Schedule contractors or through the GSA Advantage online shopping and ordering system.

One of the main advantages (other than price and convenience) of purchasing through GSA schedules and other government-wide acquisition contracts is the conformance of these vehicles to Federal Acquisition Regulations (FARs), but buyers should beware.

FARs are not the only rules or guidelines that govern the purchase of test equipment by individuals in federal agencies, the United States military and select state agencies and federal contractors. Many other organizations also have specific procedures around procurements. Although these additional procedures typically do not conflict with the federal regulations, purchasers using these types of contract mechanisms need to understand their individual organization’s specific acquisition policies.

When orders are placed against a Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) contract using the procedures under FAR 8.4, they are considered issued using full and open competition (see FAR 6.102(d)(3)). Ordering offices do not need to seek further competition, synopsize the requirement, make a separate determination of fair and reasonable pricing, or consider small business programs.

By placing an order against a GSA schedule contract using this FAR section’s procedures, the ordering office has concluded that the order represents the best value and results in the lowest overall cost alternative (considering price, special features, administrative costs, etc.) to meet the government’s needs.

Several guidelines exist to help buyers understand when they should seriously consider using GSA schedules. Buyers should seriously consider using GSA schedules when buying a single unit or small quantity; the unit is relatively common in the marketplace and is a commercial off the shelf item (COTS); the unit does not need to be highly or uniquely configured relative to the base unit; and when the specifying individual or organization has asked for a specific make and model.

All U.S. federal agencies can use MAS - the executive, legislative and judicial branches; government contractors authorized in writing by a federal agency pursuant to 48 CFR 51.1; the government of the District of Columbia; mixed ownership government corporations (as defined in the Government Corporation Control Act) and other activities and organizations authorized by statute or regulation to use GSA as a source of supply. In addition, state and local agencies can use certain schedules pertaining to the purchase of information technology (IT) equipment or when MAS items will be used in funded homeland security or drug interdiction programs.

Organizations should consider alternatives in addition to GSA schedule holders when they require competitive bid even for GSA products; buy multiple quantities at a value of more than $100,000, which is typically the Simplified Acquisition Threshold for most organizations; buy against a specification rather than a make or model number; or don’t like what they see on GSA schedule.

GSA makes all schedule products available through GSAAdvantage! ( In addition, buyers can make a GSA request to have new test-and-measurement equipment vendors include the buyer on their initial and regular update program. Details around this and GSA schedules in general can be found at gsa/ep/ contentId=8106& contentType=GSA_OVERVIEW.

In addition, many of the commercial organizations that the buyer may have purchased from in the past under the traditional competitive bidding process may also operate GSA schedules and have GSA specific catalogs available including regular updates. For example, TestMart offers all relevant GSA products at, as well as keeping the products on the GSA Advantage! Web site.

When those eligible purchase electronic test and measurement equipment through the GSA service under a Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) contract, they are typically buying from either the manufacturer who produces the equipment or an authorized reseller, distributor or agent of the manufacturer. The GSA has no restrictions on the number of organizations that can apply for and operate GSA schedules against a particular item.

GSAAdvantage! enables users to search for items using keywords, part numbers, national stock numbers, supplier names, and contract numbers; compare features, prices, and delivery options; configure products and add accessories; place orders directly online; review delivery options; select a convenient payment method; and view order history to track status, reorder or cancel an order.

Shopping at GSA Advantage! requires a government-wide commercial purchase card (no password) or a GSA activity address code (AAC) and a password. An AAC can be obtained from the GSA by clicking on the “Apply for an AAC” at the sign-on screen.

If shoppers are buying more than one item and identify at least three suppliers of the product, they can save time and money and still be in compliance with all related FARs by limiting the shopping to GSAAdvantage! as there may be no other direct reason to make this an “open solicitation” (i.e., one that follows a standard non-GSA procurement process).

When buying more than one item, GSA test equipment suppliers do not often use a multiple quantity discount, which can be included on an organization’s GSA schedule. Depending on the organization’s policy, anywhere from one to three bids may also qualify as a FAR-compliant procurement and thus saves the time and expense of open source procurement with below GSA pricing.

Additionally, there is a FAR clause (8.404(b)5) that allows contractors to offer price reductions and spot pricing for one-time procurements and pass on savings to users based on the dynamics of the commercial marketplace.

Finally, if the procurement includes multiple accessories or options that are usually sold separately (such as additional warranty or carrying cases), buyers should treat this these additions as separate procurements. Many GSA suppliers do not expect buyers to research lesser priced options and accessories and usually have these under GSA schedule at favorable terms equivalent to the base unit.

Open-market items are also known as incidental items, noncontract items, non-Schedule items, and items not on a Federal Supply Schedule contract. An ordering office may add items not on the Federal Supply Schedule contract to an order or Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) if the ordering office has determined the price for the items not on the Federal Supply Schedule contract is fair and reasonable; all clauses applicable to items not on the Federal Supply Schedule contract are included in the order; the items are clearly labeled on the order as items not on the Federal Supply Schedule contract; and all applicable acquisition regulations pertaining to the purchase of the items not on the Federal Supply Schedule contract have been followed. Trade-ins will be considered against the purchase of new equipment.

The Maximum Order Threshold (MO) is designed for buying members to get lower prices for orders above the threshold quantity. It is the level, or trigger point, for buyers to seek additional price reductions. The MO, listed on every MAS contractor pricelist, enables schedule contractors to accept “any size” order, reducing the need for the buying members to conduct duplicative and repetitive procurements for items already under contract.

While GSAAdvantage! is a great place to research and buy test-and-measurement equipment at substantial cost and time savings, there are also other resources the savvy government buyer can look to for precompeted products that conform to most FARS and CICA standards and offer discounted prices. In most of these cases, all federal and military entities are eligible to buy under these contracts based on the contract language itself.

For example, providing the latest in Information Technology (IT) products which includes such test equipment products as network testers is the NASA Scientific & Engineering Workstation Procurement III (SEWP) contract vehicle which, according to the administrators of SEWP, has an outstanding track record of serving up fresh technology for federal agencies. SEWP offers low prices (generally below GSA schedule prices), and an easy ordering procedure.

An even wider selection of test equipment product under contract is available through the Naval Inventory Control Point (part of Naval Supply). Their Web site is located at, where the buyer can also request a print catalog.

Peter Ostrow is president and chief executive officer of TestMart/NAVICPmart (

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Military Aerospace, create an account today!