The National Institutes of Health IT Acquisition and Assessment Center extended the deadline for bids for its $40 billion CIO-SP4 vehicle amid complaints and problems with the proposal submission portal it is requiring vendors to use.
NITAAC required all contractors who previously submitted proposals in August to resubmit bids through a third-party portal provided by Innovo by Jan. 28 at 5 p.m. Bids for CIO-SP4 are now due by Feb. 11 at 5 p.m.
“Companies have been submitting trouble tickets for glaring bugs, and the company and NITAAC are not responding. The CEO of Innovo himself is occasionally responding in support chat sessions, but providing little information,” said one industry official, who requested anonymity because their company is bidding on the vehicle. “The website requires significant manual data entry on online forms, duplicating data already included within the body of the proposal files you have to upload, like all corporate experience contract details have to be manually entered on the website in order to generate your [self-scoring] points score. The worst issues include saved data being wiped out by the website, the save function just not working and resulting in errors (i.e. you can’t save), not even being able to load the website. Like right now you can’t even get in, and inconsistencies with formatting requirements in the RFP (e.g. required file names not being supported by the website).”
The additional two weeks comes as a reprieve for vendors who were scrambling to submit their proposals because the portal wasn’t working well.
Another industry official, who also requested anonymity, said there are probably 1,000 bidders for CIO-SP4 and it seems like the portal wasn’t able to handle the load.
“It was working for us at 8 a.m. and then by 9:30 a.m. it was having issues. I suspect as more people started using the portal, it couldn’t handle the traffic,” the official said. “We believe, based on our own data, that there are more than 2,000 help desk tickets that have been submitted, including more than 400 over the last 24 hours.”
The source said their company already has spent five hours submitting information and it will take another four-to-eight hours to finish submitting the data in order to bid on CIO-SP4 because the portal is so slow and cumbersome.
Innovo CEO David Kramer referred to an email seeking comments about the portal to NITAAC.
Brian Goodger, the acting director of NITAAC, repeated in an email statement to Federal News Network what amendment 15, said, which was, “Receiving CIO-SP4 proposals from all eligible offerors is one of the highest priorities for the NITAAC program. To that end, we have extended the submission date to February 11, 2022 to allow all proposals to be successfully submitted and resolve any perceived issues with the Insight tool.”
Associations in contact with NITAAC
Industry associations and others may disagree that these are “perceived issues” as they also heard from members about the frustrations with the portal.
“Several PSC companies alerted us to the technical challenges with the CIO-SP4 submission portal, and we communicated those concerns to NITAAC officials,” said Stephanie Kostro, executive vice president of policy for the Professional Services Council. “A solution is needed, whether it is an extension to the submission deadline and/or allowing email submissions, to ensure that the submissions are accurate and complete. An agency official did respond to our correspondence. He noted that receiving CIO-SP4 proposals from all eligible offerors is one of the program’s highest priorities and indicated that they ‘will ensure that adequate time is afforded to receive proposal submissions.’”
The Coalition for Government Procurement also confirmed its members are having problems with the proposal submission portal.
“In light of the difficulties that multiple companies are experiencing in submitting information through the online portal, NITAAC rightly extended the due date for proposals to Feb.11,” said Roger Waldron, president of the coalition. “Furthermore, it is imperative for NITAAC to provide those companies who have already submitted their proposals the opportunity to validate the accuracy of the data reflected in their submission. That validation is important in determining the pervasiveness of the portal’s data-related issues and should be part of an examination of the system by NITAAC to determine whether the system meets the needs of the procurement. NITAAC should report back to all offerors on their findings and plans of addressing these issues.”
Brad Barker, president of 8M Strategies, which does proposal consulting and is working with clients who are bidding on CIO-SP4, said while he has received help on trouble tickets, the portal has been struggling for several days.
“When it first came out, there was no pattern for what was wrong. We heard it worked better using the Edge browser vs. Chrome. Then it was not working on Firefox but it was working on Chrome,” he said. “Uploading information and hitting the save button also wasn’t working well. I heard someone comment that they weren’t sure this portal went through any user testing before they launched it.”
Self-scoring sheet changes
Part of the reason why the portal may be stressed is NITAAC changed the requirements for vendors to submit evidence for their self-scoring sheet.
Barker said amendment 14 from Jan. 14 required each bidder to submit supporting documentation to support each their self-scoring for each task order area.
“If I say I have experience in XYZ and it’s worth 100 points, I need a form to back that up. Before I could just upload one document to satisfy my self-scoring sheet,” Barker said. “It’s putting a significant burden on contractors. We have one client that this required five days of work and another client that’s required four days of work by one person doing this full time.”
NITAAC decided to ask vendors who initially submitted bids in August to resubmit them again after losing a bid protest in November.
The road to get to final bids for NITAAC has been bumpy, to say the least. It faced more than 20 protests, winning them all but the last one.
It has issued now 15 amendments since March, and industry frustrations have risen and fallen over the course of the last year.