The General Services Administration put significant points on the board Thursday in its effort to create a governmentwide contract vehicle for buying professional services.
A memorandum of understanding GSA signed with the Air Force Thursday lands the first large commitment from a federal agency to use the new One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services (OASIS) contract vehicle that GSA designed for the procurement of “complex professional services.”
Under the agreement, the Air Force will use OASIS and its sister contract, OASIS Small Business, as its primary channels to buy professional services.
The MOU anticipates that the Air Force will obligate at least $500 million through OASIS in the first 18 months after GSA awards vendors a spot on the contracts, which it intends to do early in calendar year 2014.
Randall Culpepper, the Air Force’s program executive officer for combat and mission support, said OASIS will let his service continue an evolution it’s been trying to make for the last 15 years: moving professional service contracting away from individual military bases and toward a more thoughtful, enterprisewide approach to buying knowledge services.
“It meets our timeline, and our internal program couldn’t meet that timeline,” Culpepper said in an interview. “We took this idea, and we sent it to all of the folks across the Air Force who deal with service acquisition. And every office in the Air Force said, this will save us a tremendous amount of time and effort and put a tool in our hands that will help us get vigorously-competed contracts awarded to highly capable and vetted companies. It will also let us reach into the small business community in an aggressive fashion. If all goes well here, I think we’ll see more organizations within DoD moving toward OASIS.”
No mandate Culpepper said there is no explicit dictate from the Air Force’s leadership that will require contracting officers to use OASIS for all professional services contracts, and it has no intention of canceling or modifying contracts it initiated earlier though other vehicles.
But going forward, contracts that use something other than OASIS will probably be few and far between.
“My question to anybody that comes in to see me will be, ‘Have you considered OASIS, and if not, why not?'” said Culpepper, who serves as the Air Force’s senior official for service acquisition. “There may be reasons why they wouldn’t, but they’re going to need to make a business case about why they’re going to use something other than OASIS.”
Culpepper said the Air Force’s costs to use OASIS as its default option for professional services turned out to be much lower than the overhead expenses it would have incurred if it were to have constructed a multiple award vehicle on its own.
Under the agreement, the Air Force will pay volume-based fees to GSA, which will decrease depending on how much use it makes of OASIS each year. Until the end of 2015, the Air Force will pay 0.1 percent of the value of the task orders it issues under OASIS back to GSA.
“There were some very meaningful discussions about fees. We offered what I like to call pre-construction pricing on this model,” said Jeff Koses, GSA’s director of acquisition operations. “We recognized that we need to give the Air Force a solution that costs them less, but we still need to cover the cost of running and operating the vehicle.”
GSA and Air Force officials say the process leading up the MOU caused some significant changes to the OASIS model, as did GSA’s consultations with other civilian agencies.
But in the end, both agencies had needs of their own. The Air Force wanted a way to simplify the manpower-intensive process of building complicated contracts for services, and GSA needed to prove that OASIS could build a viable customer base among federal agencies.
“We needed an anchor tenant,” Koses said. “Part of what we’ve been working on with the Office of Management and Budget is the question of contract duplication and making sure that when there’s an award vehicle established, it plays an important role and that it will get significant use. OMB really stressed to us, ‘Hey, OASIS sounds like a great idea, but show us there’s a need for it.'”
GSA and the Air Force think they’ve shown that OASIS will get a lot of use, but the construct is still the subject of protest from vendors who believe it will exclude participation in contract competitions from small businesses.
Culpepper said those pending challenges didn’t dampen the Air Force’s enthusiasm for the project.
“We’re sold on the idea,” he said. “We looked very carefully at the issues that were broached by the protesters, and we think we’re on good, solid ground for what we’re doing. We’re generating savings for the taxpayers and the agencies involved, and we’re affording an opportunity for people to compete, prove their worth and get involved in a contract that will be beneficial to the agency and to the vendors who are involved.”