House Drops DoD Request to Change Definition of Commercial Products

May 14, 2012

The Pentagon says a streamlined acquisition process designed in the 1990s to let federal agencies buy commercial products under less-cumbersome procedures has been abused for years. So this year, the Defense Department asked Congress to change it.

While the House Armed Services Committee adopted many of DoD's suggestions when it passed the fiscal 2013 Defense authorization bill, lawmakers decided against including this one, which at least one industry group has called a "radical" proposal that would alter the process by which all agencies have been allowed to buy commercial items for the past decade and a half.

At issue is a concept in federal acquisition law known as "commercial-of-a-type." While federal procurement policy has long urged agencies to buy products or services that already exist in the marketplace rather than building new systems from the ground up, commercial-of-a-type gives agency contracting officers some wiggle room: they can allow vendors to make adjustments to commercial products so that they meet government requirements, but are close enough to what everybody else can buy off the shelf so that quick acquisition procedures still apply. 

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