GSA’s canceled RFQ shows growing cracks in federal contracting

Usually when an agency cancels a request for quotes under a multiple award contract, it’s not worth a notebook mention. Hundreds or thousands of contracts are awarded and probably just as many others are canceled or postponed every week throughout the federal government, but one recent RFQ from the General Services Administration caught my attention.

An industry friend highlighted not only the frustration with the cancellation, but GSA’s inability to put this contract in place after 18 months of work despite the important role the support services that are part of the contract play in many of the administration’s management agenda initiatives.

So a little background first: The RFQ is for data analytics services in support of the Office of Governmentwide Policy (OGP) and the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT).

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It’s not a huge contract, some industry friends estimated maybe $15 million to $21 million over three years. It’ not a contract for groundbreaking service, nor is it taking an approach such as the reverse mini-auctions that GSA’s 18F has successfully completed recently.

“The purpose of this task order is to provide comprehensive qualitative and quantitative analysis support for OGP and OCSIT programs and services,” stated the RFQ, which Federal News Radio obtained. “The primary tasks associated with this requirement will support OGP and OCSIT activities in conducting comprehensive data analysis, providing data management and technical support and developing performance metrics and reports, and other actions specific to overall program performance.”

The contract was supposed to serve, among others — the CXO Councils, the new shared services office and OCSIT’s effort to improve federal agency customer service — meaning several Cross-Agency Priority goals.

Industry also expected the contract to help with initiatives such as PortfolioStat and CyberStat data analysis work, and much of the second term management agenda around the White House’s benchmarking effort.

The struggle with what seems to be a pretty straightforward acquisition is part of what I’ll call a growing frustration in the federal contracting community — government and industry alike.

First off, the fact that GSA has been working on this contract for the better part of 18 months and still produced, what an industry source familiar with the RFQ and GSA’s planning, called vague requirements, was disappointing.

The industry source, who requested anonymity because their company will bid on the future opportunity, said in addition to the RFQ’s inherent challenges, a lack of coordination between the business owners and the contracting staff seemed to exist. The source said all of these factors lead to a feeling of ineptitude around the entire 18-month process to develop and issue the RFQ.

All of that climaxed in early February when GSA canceled the contract as it also faced a pre-award protest.

“The protester requested review at a level above contracting officer, and the GSA protest official is responsible for reviewing the protest and responding to the protester,” a GSA spokeswoman said in an email to Federal News Radio. “The RFQ closing date was extended to Feb. 12 to allow sufficient time to review the protest. The RFQ was then cancelled on Feb. 5 to allow the program office to further refine the requirements and issue a new RFQ at a later date.”

The spokeswoman didn’t say which company protested the RFQ, but either way the delaying tactic by industry also is frustrating.

While protests are often part of a highly-sought after and/or high-dollar acquisitions, the industry source was surprised about the complaint.

The fact there is a protest, however, demonstrates the profile of this contract across the government and GSA should’ve been better prepared.

And that takes us back to the beginning — GSA started planning to upgrade and replace the previous version of the contract, which SRA International held for at least the last five years, if not last 10, recognizing the changing and expanding needs of OGP and OCSIT, which was a good thing.

The source says the plan was to take the SRA contract, which mainly was for support of the CIO Council and the a few other OGP offices, and break it down into three or four contracts — one for communications and marketing, one for data analysis and one for project and program management.

GSA awarded the program and project management to a small firm, eGlobal Tech back in the fall.

But from there the process went downhill.

GSA initially expected to issue the RFQ in early December, but it didn’t come out until Jan. 26, with bids due by Feb. 4, so a short turnaround time.

Things looked bad from the beginning when GSA didn’t answer vendor questions about the RFQ until Feb. 3, a day before the bids were due. GSA then extended the deadline for bids until Feb. 12, only to cancel the RFQ on Feb. 5.

In the meantime, GSA renewed the contract with SRA to provide some of these support services through Dec. 31 to deal with the delay in getting the new contract in place. So SRA is no longer supporting the CXO Councils, and there is no replacement contractor in sight at least for the near future.

The industry source said the status of the third contract, for marketing and communications, is unknown.

The GSA spokeswoman said there is no firm date for new RFQ issuance for this requirement at this time, and the protest is ongoing and pending response by GSA.

So as the administration’s management efforts need to make one last push over the next 11 months toward more results, a key support contract is at least a month away from being in place. In the meantime, agencies, which are in need of data analytics expertise, must either do without or find another way — one that could be more expensive — to meet their needs.

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