NIH’s NITAAC following familiar path to deliver acquisitions during coronavirus

Keith Johnson, the contracting lead for the CIO-SP3 and CIO-SP4 vehicles for NITAAC, said a structural problem to the organization’s building forced employees...

Like many acquisition organizations, the National Institutes of Health’s Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) is busier than ever.

But the pressure to deliver during the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t caused NITAAC to falter or struggle.

Keith Johnson, the contracting lead for the CIO-SP3 and CIO-SP4 vehicles for NITAAC, said the acquisition organization and its employees are thriving.

“We are a unique bunch. We have been out of our location for about a year now due to some structure issues. We’ve gotten used to working away from each other and working from our respective homes,” Johnson said in an interview with Federal News Network. “Over the last year or so, we’ve had a very successful year under our GWACs so it’s just a testament to how we’ve adjusted to teleworking.”

Bloomberg Government reported in December that NITAAC’s governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) have seen more than $12 billion in sales since 2012.

BGov reported that NIH’s three contract vehicles — CIO-SP3, CIO-SP3 Small Business, and CIO-CS — have grown 19% annually since 2017 and in 2019, HHS  and DoD were the biggest users of CIO-SP3 and CIO-SP3 small business while the Commerce Department was the biggest spender on CIO-CS.

Johnson said interest and spending during the pandemic emergency continues to be strong.

He said NITAAC has seen its biggest uptick over the last few months on the services for data analytics and data tracking tools.

“When the public health emergency was announced, we did, as an office, reach out to our contract holders to see if they did, in fact, have access to personal protective equipment items that are in high demand just for information and just for purposes of submitting that information to our colleagues around the government who may be looking for those various PPE items,” Johnson said.

Training, meetings moved online

This ability to execute is not without some complexity.

Several agencies, including the departments of Health and Human Service and Defense, have issued acquisition regulation changes. Johnson said HHS and DoD, for instance, have made it easier to award sole source contracts for pandemic-related emergency needs.

“The [acquisition] process has somewhat evolved. We are used to going out to various agencies throughout the country when there is interest in training that program or procurement shop on the details and how to use the NITAAC vehicles. Much of that training has occurred virtually now,” Johnson said. “It’s been an easy transition for us and our customers appreciate it.”

Johnson said the acquisition staff have adapted quickly to using virtual meetings both internally and externally. He said NITAAC continues to hold quarterly meetings with its contract holders to give the state of the program and forecast of upcoming task orders.

“We were tasked by NIH leadership to present to our customers a means to get to award quicker or more efficiently, specifically around our CS contract,” he said. “Our response was ‘we’ve always done this.’ A customer can come to NITAAC and make an award within 24 or 48 hours. There is no requirement if you post a solicitation it has to stay up for 30 days or 45 days. We don’t have those requirements per FAR 16.505 where our ordering procedures are located. Customers can come to our GWAC and get to an award as quick as they need to, given the circumstances of their agency.”

Johnson said NITAAC receives similar questions during the fourth quarter of the fiscal year, and the answer is always the same.

And it seems agencies like the answer from NITAAC, NASA SEWP or the General Services Administration. BGov reported in January that agency spending through GWACs reached $17 billion in 2019, up from $15 billion in 2018 and from $9 billion in 2015.

“The trend suggests agencies are relying more on GWACs each year to satisfy IT requirements and modernize legacy systems,” BGov wrote.

Similar to NITAAC, GSA and NASA also have seen an increased use of their acquisition vehicles over the last few months.

GSA activated its emergency acquisitions groups during the early days of the coronavirus emergency to help agencies meet an assortment of technology products and services needs.

NASA SEWP has experienced 40% more orders in March alone and a continued surge of buying over the last few months.

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