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Panoptic Enterprises' FEDERAL CONTRACTS DISPATCH

DATE: December 31, 2002

SUBJECT: Federal Acquisition Circular (FAC) 2001-11, Extensions of FAR Subpart 13.5 and Section 508 Micro-Purchase Exception

SOURCE: Federal Register, December 31, 2002, Vol. 67, No. 251, page 80319

AGENCIES: Department of Defense (DOD), General Services Administration (GSA), and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

ACTION: Final and Interim Rule

SYNOPSIS: The Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council is issuing FAC 2001-11 to amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) in the following areas: (1) extension of Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) Subpart 13.5, Test Program for Certain Commercial Items; and (2) extension of the Section 508 micro-purchase exception sunset provision.

DATES: Items (1) and (2) are effective January 1, 2003. Comments on item (2) are to be submitted no later than March 3, 2003.

ADDRESSES: Submit written comments on item (2) to General Services Administration, FAR Secretariat (MVA), 1800 F Street, NW, Room 4035, Attn: Laurie Duarte, Washington, DC 20405. Submit e-mail comments to: farcase.2002-012@gsa.gov. Cite "FAC 2001-11, FAR case 2002-012" in all correspondence related to item (2).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: The following analysts:

      Item (1), Victoria Moss at 202-501-4764.

      Item (2), Linda Nelson at 202-501-1900, or Angelena Moy at 703-602-1302.

For general information, contact the FAR Secretariat, Room 4035, GS Building, Washington, DC 20405, 202-501-4755.

SUPPLEMENTAL INFORMATION: (1) Special Simplified Procedures for Purchases of Commercial Items in Excess of the Simplified Acquisition Threshold: This final rule implements the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003 (Public Law 107-314), Section 812, One-Year Extension of Program Applying Simplified Procedures to Certain Commercial Items, which extends the test of the special simplified procedures for purchases of commercial items greater than the simplified acquisition threshold, but not exceeding $5,000,000, from January 1, 2003, until January 1, 2004. The test of the special simplified procedures is implemented in FAR Subpart 13.5.

This change is made by replacing "January 1, 2003" with "January 1, 2004" in the first sentence in paragraph (d) of FAR 13.500, General. (EDITOR'S NOTE: For more on the acquisition-related provisions of Public Law 107-314, see the December 3, 2002, FEDERAL CONTRACTS DISPATCH "Enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2003.")


(2) Section 508 Micro-Purchase Exception Sunset Provision: This interim rule extends, from January 1, 2003, to October 1, 2004, the exception for micro-purchases (purchases less than or equal to $2,500) from the requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act Amendments of 1998. Section 508 requires federal agencies to develop, procure, maintain, and use electronic and information technology (EIT) that allows federal employees and members of the public with disabilities to have access to information and data that is comparable to the access to information and data by those who are not individuals with disabilities, unless it would be an undue burden on the agency.

This change is made by replacing "January 1, 2003" with "October 1, 2004" in the first sentence in paragraph (a) of FAR 39.204, Exceptions. (EDITOR'S NOTE: For more on Section 508, see the December 21, 2000, FEDERAL CONTRACTS DISPATCH "Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board; Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Standards," and the April 25, 2001, FEDERAL CONTRACTS DISPATCH "Federal Acquisition Circular (FAC) 97-27, Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility.")

In incorporating the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board's standards, the FAR provided an exception from the Section 508 regulations for micro-purchases until January 1, 2003. The FAR Council fully expected that many products would conform to the standards within that timeframe and be marketed and labeled by the manufacturer accordingly. However, industry is providing products at varying levels of conformance to the standards, and product packaging does not currently provide Section 508 conformance information, in most cases.

The government is continuing to make compliance a high priority, and the award of many federal EIT technology procurements have hinged on accessibility. While the information on http://Section508.gov is helpful, not all firms have templates completed for their EIT products, and this makes it especially difficult for government purchase cardholders who are not contracting officers to make informed EIT purchases.

Typically, government personnel who are not contracting officers use the purchase card to purchase commercial-off-the-shelf items. Use of the purchase card makes it generally impractical to comply with the EIT accessibility standards unless commercial-off-the-shelf products are labeled for Section 508 standards compliance. The FAR Council recognizes that almost all micro-purchases are made using the governmentwide commercial purchase cards, but also recognizes that the government purchases $52 billion per year for EIT products and services, of which only a very small percentage are acquired through the micro-purchase process with credit cards. Most government desktop personal computers and other infrastructure are purchased and controlled through large agency acquisitions.

The FAR Council is hopeful that, by October 1, 2004, vendors will provide statements related to product conformance to the Section 508 standards as part of their marketing information and their outer packaging labeling. When this occurs, federal cardholders will be able to make informed EIT purchases that conform to the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board's standards, and the micro-purchase exception will no longer be needed.

The FAR Council realizes there might be some concern within the disability advocacy groups that extending the micro-purchase exemption is a signal that the government is relaxing the implementation period. That is not the case. It is only intended to deal with the small portion of EIT that is acquired with credit cards (micro-purchases) and the practical reality that the lack of package labeling, or other manufacturer accessibility information, makes informed decision making by cardholders especially difficult. To help in determining the appropriate next steps for addressing the accessibility of EIT micro-purchases, the FAR Council is inviting respondents to address the following questions in addition to providing comments on the interim rule:

  1. For EIT industry respondents, please include in your comments responses to the following questions:

    1. What type of training is your company employing to educate your developers (hardware and software) and salespersons regarding the Section 508 requirements?

    2. What mechanisms or approaches should the Government consider to make sure EIT micro-purchases (products and services) are accessible?

    3. Do you anticipate your company will label its EIT products with buyer information regarding the accessibility aspects of the product being offered for sale? If so, when?

    4. Do you offer a complete template of accessibility information for each of your EIT products and services on your website? If no, why not?

    5. Currently, what process does your company employ to provide information to potential government purchasers regarding the accessibility features of the products manufactured or sold?

  2. For other respondents, please include in your comments responses to the following questions:

    1. What mechanisms or approaches should the government consider to make sure EIT micro-purchases (products and services) are accessible?

    2. Currently, what type of training is being employed by your organization to educate purchasers and users regarding the Section 508 requirements? Is any training specifically geared towards cardholders and micro-purchases? If so, how do you explain and communicate the Section 508 requirements?

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Panoptic Enterprises at 703-451-5953 or by e-mail to Panoptic@FedGovContracts.com.

Copyright 2002 by Panoptic Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.

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