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FedSubK Feature: Mythbusting the Role of Federal Buyers in the Acquisition Process

Updated: May 4

Let's keep it real today when it comes to Federal buyers (aka, those contracting people at agencies, one of which I used to be). True or false…

MYTH 1: Federal buyers decide WHAT the Government buys.

Answer: FALSE 

Federal buyers: (1) determine HOW the Government makes the purchase, and (2) hold the authority to obligate the Government to pay for products or services it procures. That authority depends on:

  • the tool the buyer is using to procure, 

  • the total dollar value of the purchase, and 

  • the authority granted to the buyer to purchase. 

The general term “Federal buyer” encompasses the different roles that hold the authority to make purchases like Governmentwide Purchase Card (GPC) holders, ordering officers, procuring contracting officers (COs/KOs), and administrative COs/KOs, all of whom are formally trained on the type of purchasing methods they are authorized to use and their specific authority to obligate the Government.   

MYTH 2: Federal buyers decide WHO to buy from


✅ ️Micro-Purchases (Buys with a total value <=$10,000, except for contingency operations, Services (<=$2,500) and Construction (<=$2,000)). 

The buyer for a micro-purchase is any Government employee who holds a Governmentwide purchase card (GPC). A bona-fide need for a product or service for official use is determined, sometimes by the GPC holder. A card holder could be a project manager, public affairs specialist, end-user, or that agency employee you met at a conference. Because micro-purchases don’t require formal competition or written terms and conditions, the GPC holder is free to decide who gets the buy (within reason; rotating sources for recurring buys). The buyer documents the rationale for their purchase decision, any other info required by the agency, then uses the card to make the purchase. 

✅ ️Simplified Acquisitions. (Buys with a total value over the micro-purchase threshold (MPT) and <=$250,000, with some exceptions). The buyer for this type of purchase is a Government employee with formal acquisition training who is: 

(1) assigned as a Contracting Officer with authority to obligate the Government by means of a written warrant (i.e., the document which grants contract signature authority), and/or 

(2) designated as an Ordering Official (i.e., an authority granted by the Contracting Officer for the sole purpose of placing orders under existing contracts). 

Buys are initiated when a requirements package is received by the buying organization. The package contains documents like a scope of work (SOW), performance work statement (PWS), statement of objectives (SOO), specifications, special instructions, surveillance plan, funding document, etc., developed by a project manager or team of technical experts. Buys at this threshold require competition and utilize quotes. Minimal review and evaluation is required and selection is often made based on the lowest quoted price. The CO/KO is typically the final decision authority for selection of who receives the award at this level.

✅ ️Actions Over the Simplified Acquisition Threshold (SAT). (Buy with a total value >$250,000). While the buyer may sign the contract award document, there are several additional approval officials involved depending on the total dollar value of the acquisition at a variety of points in the planning, solicitation, evaluation, and award process. Examples of a few additional approvals required are–

  • Buyers must get approval from an SBA Procurement Center Representative (PCR) when a set aside will not be used at this threshold. 

  • Proposals may be evaluated by a team of technical and pricing experts, typically the project manager and proposed Contracting Officer's Representative (COR) and other technical and price/cost experts that will be involved in the day-to-day administration of the contract.

  • A Source Selection Authority (SSA), who is one level or more above the CO/KO, may make the award decision. This could be the Chief of the Contracting Office where the CO/KO works or other contractual, technical, or program authority as designated in the Source Selection Evaluation Plan approved prior to the closing date for receipt of proposals.

At this threshold, the buyer relies on the knowledge, expertise, and/or decision of others to advise and inform their decision-making before obligating the Government through execution of a contract.

The Federal buyer does not always act autonomously. If your marketing targets the wrong person in a given acquisition scenario, or only targets the Federal buyer, you could be missing out on a chance to influence other critical players in the game before a contracting person ever sees a requirement and starts their work to establish the procurement.

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