GSA, NOAA roar into March with major IT, services RFPs

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The General Services Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are teeing up several new opportunities for vendors.

By March, contractors can expect a series of draft and final requests for proposals for some of the largest IT and services contracts in the government.

And these contracts represent a growing change in the acquisition community that will impact how agencies buy, who they buy from and where they focus their money.

The first part of this change is the move to help agencies buy common products and services more efficiently.

GSA is about to release a major piece to that puzzle in the form of the draft RFP for Alliant 2 — both small business and full and open versions. The current Alliant contract includes more than 100 large and small firms, and agencies have spent more than $3.7 billion on IT services last year.

Chris Fornecker, GSA’s director for governmentwide acquisition contracts in the Federal Acquisition Service, said GSA is applying a lot of lessons learned to Alliant 2 preparations from its experience with the OASIS professional services GWAC.

“Some of the key differences would be in trying to standardize labor categories. We probably will be adopting what OASIS did in using the Department of Labor’s standardized definitions so that in the future we can support things like prices paid so we will have a common baseline of what that labor category is,” said Fornecker Thursday at the AFCEA Bethesda breakfast in Maryland. “Another major area that will affect you all is the way we will do the evaluation, which is going to be a much more objective type of strategy. Again, patterned after what OASIS did with self-scoring. It will be different criteria, but the idea is to make the proposal process and the evaluation process for us less onerous and quicker. It may also enable, in the future, an onboarding or open season for the Alliant at the option period, which is something we haven’t done in the past because it’s too complicated of a process.”

Along with Alliant 2, Fornecker said GSA will issue a request for information for VETS 2, the small business GWAC for veteran-owned businesses, in the coming month or so. Last year, agencies spent $159.9 million on the contract.

GSA also will have an open season for the 8(a) STARS II program. Fornecker said FAS expects about half of all current 8(a) contract holders to “graduate” from the contract, meaning they are too big to be in the 8(a) program. GSA expects to bring on about 250 new vendors.

Agencies spent more than $1.3 billion against the STARS II program in 2014.

$3 billion draft RFP coming

Along with GSA, NOAA is preparing to release a draft RFP this summer for its large Pro-TECH contract for professional and technical services.

“It will be a large contract for professional and technical services organized by domain: ocean, fisheries, weather, satellite technology and enterprise or back- office functions. Those are the domains,” said Mitchell Ross, NOAA’s director of acquisition and grants. “It will be a $3 billion effort over five years, multiple awards by domain, and you can bid in one domain or multiple domains. Why is it that we are creating our own vehicle and not using some of the schedules or other vehicles available, because we want to focus on creating an industrial base of firms that will work with us for the duration, and make investments in those areas of our mission that we are interested. We are not interested in buying engineers by the pound. We are not interested in having a race to the bottom on price. We are interested in buying quality, talent and services for the duration.”

Ross said NOAA also has an on-ramp for small firms under its NOAALINK IT services contract coming up. He said the solicitation will be out later this summer.

Along with NOAA and GSA, the National Institutes of Health’s IT Acquisition and Assistance Center (NITAAC) will be awarding its next generation GWAC, called CIO-CS for commodity and services in the next few months. Michelle Street, lead procurement analyst for NITAAC said this GWAC will include the ability of value-added resellers and original equipment manufacturers to provider products and services. Some have estimated the CIO-CS to have a ceiling of $20 billion over the life of the contract.

While these contracts focus on the common or commodity goods and services, GSA’s 18F and other innovation hubs are trying to help agencies regain the technical and programmatic skills to run projects in the mission area.

Micro marketplaces could be on tap

It’s part of a huge push from the Office of Management and Budget for agencies to not only buy in smaller chunks but also to buy smarter.

At the same time, while these are new contracts from GSA, NOAA and NIH potentially offer the ability of agencies to buy in smaller chunks, the lack of training of contracting officers and the technical expertise in government to understand the technologies they are buying is limiting the transformation.

18F is trying to solve both of those challenges. First, it’s developing a new agile blanket purchase agreement for agile process. Now, 18F is thinking what’s beyond that yet-to-be awarded agile BPA contract.

Chris Cairns, the director of 18F consulting, said his organization is considering developing contracts for micro marketplaces such as cloud or customer relationship management.

“The hypothesis going in is that we want these marketplaces, as much as possible, to reflect the competitive dynamics that happen in the private marketplace. So many times we create these contract vehicles that are 5-to-10 years long, we award them to a limited number of players and we really limit and delay the competitive cycles necessary to drive higher levels of performance,” he said. “By having a very narrow micro market, we can get a good apples-to-apples comparison with how these vendors are performing against each other, and this is where the on-ramping and off-ramping comes into play. Those who are doing well and delivering value to the agencies obviously have a chance to compete for more work, and those who aren’t get off ramped. I don’t think we need to make contracting performance management schemes any more complicated than that. I think there is plenty of incentive to preserve the revenue and profit.”

Cairns said these micro marketplaces will help the government move toward the systems integrator and program manager role that they gave up to industry over the last decade.

Two hallways to launch in May

The agile BPA is the first example of a micro marketplace and it created a bit of a buzz across government.

“Other agencies, and I think the community in general, recognize this is kind of a shift in how these marketplaces are being set up,” Cairns said. “As soon as we wrote a blog post and announced this [agile] BPA, we got a lot of calls from other agencies saying, ‘I really like this model. I’d like to set up a micro marketplace for health care products, specifically like diabetes so I can get access to innovative startups in the area.’ We’ve gotten other calls from other agencies asking if we can create a micro marketplace for customer relationship management. I think the agencies really like this idea of getting to an inch wide, a mile deep set of private sector capabilities.”

Cairns added 18F is working with agencies to better understand these concepts, and are using tools like the TechFAR to help explain it. He said in the coming months several agencies will issue RFPs that will reflect agile acquisition approaches.

At the same time, the administration’s category management effort also is trying to change agency buying habits. The goal is to take advantage of similarities among agencies to get better pricing and terms for these commodity areas.

Fornecker said he’s in charge of two of the hallways on the Common Acquisition Platform. He said by May, GSA will stand up IT consulting, security and IT outsourcing hallways. Fornecker said in the next week his office will begin the effort to create the IT consulting and IT outsourcing hallways, which he had the lead on.

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