Busy federal fourth quarter to bleed into just as crazy first quarter of 2024

Bloomberg Government estimates agencies to have more than $200 billion to spend on acquisition over the final three months of fiscal 2023.

The fourth quarter federal buying season officially kicked off on Saturday.

And it’s expected to be as busy as ever. Bloomberg Government estimates agencies will spend about $217 billion between now and Sept. 30. That’s about 31% of the total acquisition spending for fiscal 2023.

Of that, BGov expects agencies to use existing multiple award type contracts, whether they’re governmentwide acquisition contracts like NASA SEWP or the CIO-SP3 vehicles from the National Institutes of Health IT Acquisition and Assessment Center or through the schedules program from the General Services Administration, for about 60% of all spending.

David Berteau, the president of the Professional Services Council, an industry association, said because agencies received 2023 appropriations earlier than in previous years, the fourth quarter may not be record breaking.

“I do think it will be a busy fourth quarter,” Berteau said in an interview. “Non- DoD agencies did better in obligating money in the second quarter and I expect they will do better in the third quarter, which should take the pressure off in the fourth quarter.”

But, Berteau added, it’s not unusual for agencies to have to spend more than 30% of their annual appropriations in the fourth quarter.

“The pressure of fourth quarter spending is different for each agency because of when their money expires. Some have one-year money and some have two-year money and others have no-year money, so that also plays into the decisions,” he said.

At the same time, agencies need to get their orders in quickly for some of the GWACs.

NITAAC’s assisted acquisition services set a deadline of Aug. 1 for agencies to get orders in, otherwise they will not be fulfilled by Sept. 30.

“It takes time to get an acquisition from inception to contract award so we don’t want to have problems there at the end of the year, and you still have a contract that’s not been awarded,” said Ricky Clark, the deputy director at NITAAC during the recent Centre Law and Consulting Annual Review. “For us, that deadline is mandatory for us to process as needed.”

GSA’s Assisted Acquisition Services has issued a similar deadline in the past as well. It’s unclear what their drop dead order deadline is this year.

Other GWACS, like NASA SEWP, can take orders up to Sept. 30 at midnight.

The point being contractors and agencies alike should expect a busy next three months.

While contractors will watch the laundry list of assorted multiple award contracts they’re on via SAM.gov, assuming it’s working and not down for technical problems like we’ve seen a bit too often recently (and have you heard me complain lately about the lack of transparency of these MACs and GWACs? If not, now you have), the other big acquisition story is NITAAC’s CIO-SP4.

If you missed the news last week, shame on you. The Government Accountability Office upheld 98 protests of the phase 1 evaluation. It’s unclear what that means, except the $50 billion GWAC continues to face major challenges to get to final award.

There probably are dozens of other major contracts industry is closely watching for awards in the fourth quarter as well, including the State Department’s $8 billion EVOLVE multiple award contract, the Homeland Security Department’s FirstSource III small business contract and the Army’s $7.9 billion Common Hardware System-6 (CHS-6) vehicle.

At the same time, agencies are preparing a boat load of solicitations for early 2024. Here are a few of the ones many companies are following, though it is not intended to be a complete list by any means:

OASIS, Alliant, oh my!

If you are a professional services firm and haven’t been living under a rock for the past year, you probably know the General Services Administration released all six solicitations for the OASIS+ multiple award contract. For the rest of you, OASIS+ is the follow-on contract to the highly success OASIS multiple award contract. Since 2015, agencies have obligated almost $64 billion across OASIS, OASIS small business and OASIS 8(a).

What you need to know: Five small business pools and one unrestricted. Due date for proposals is Sept. 13 — it’s a good bet that date will be extended a few times before proposals are actually really, truly due. Questions about the solicitation are due by July 6. This 10-year contract has no ceiling. GSA made 12 significant changes to the request for proposals from the March 2023 draft solicitation.

Background: My interview from April with Tiffany Hixson, the assistant commissioner for the Office of Professional Services and Human Capital Categories in the GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service. She goes into good detail about the OASIS+ acquisition strategy and how they are trying their best to stay out of protest purgatory.

The Alliant 3 solicitation is still a ways away. GSA wrote on its Interact site that it expects to release the final RFP in spring 2024 after issuing a second draft RFP before the end of calendar year 2023.

What you need to know: Alliant 3 is the follow-on to the highly popular Alliant 2 contract. GSA is knee-deep in acquisition strategy and planning mode, having issued a draft RFP in last October. GSA wrote June 28 that “as a result of the feedback we received from the first draft RFP, one-on-one listening sessions and other factors, changes were made to the solicitation that warrant the release of a full second draft RFP…”

Background: Alliant 2 continues to be among the most successful GWACs ever. GSA dropped the other shoe in June extending the order date under the vehicle by five years to 2028. This comes after it increased the ceiling of Alliant 2 to $75 billion last August. Since 2018, agencies have obligated almost $19 billion through Alliant 2.

Small business contractors also will be waiting a bit longer for the final set of RFPs under the Polaris GWAC.

What you need to know: An April Court of Federal Claims decision threw GSA’s plan for Polaris into turmoil. GSA now says it’s still figuring out how to respond to the court’s decision and will eventually issue an amendment to Polaris. It offered no timeline nor insight into what that amendment would include or address beyond what the court recommended.

Background: Polaris was supposed to be the small business vehicle that made up for the missteps with Alliant Small Business GWAC that fell apart in 2020. Now despite Polaris delays and not having Alliant SB in place, GSA’s other small business GWACs have filled the void. 8(a) STARS III has received over $1 billion in obligations since 2021 and agencies have obligated more than $1.2 billion since 2018.

From the “this just in category,” GSA released market research for quantum cryptography on June 26.

What you need to know: This request for information is taking the temperature of the state of the market for products and services. GSA specifically is looking for short answer feedback on eight specific questions, including:

  • Can your organization provide any PQC related services and/or products?
  • Does your organization currently have a contract to provide any federal, state, local or tribal entities with any specific services and/or products, related to tools and services regarding automated PQC analysis and planning?
  • Does your organization have any PQC related services and/or products that should be added to federal, state, local or tribal contracts?
  • Does your organization have any PQC related services and/or products currently under development that are not yet ready to be added to federal, state, local or tribal contracts?

Due date for comments is July 11.

Background: The White House’s May 2021 cyber executive order called on agencies to prepare for the future of cybersecurity. The May 2022 National Security Memorandum identified key steps needed to maintain a competitive advantage in quantum information science, while mitigating the risks of quantum computers to the nation’s cyber, economic and national security. The RFI helps further the procurement discussion about the products and services agencies buy and how they will be prepared for the post-quantum world.

From the “this just in category, part 2,” GSA issued a new request for information to change how vendors through their schedule contract sets prices for cloud services, including infrastructure- and platform-as-a-service GSA called the RFI term-based cloud services pricing and invoicing practices.

What you need to know: This RFI is focused solely on schedule contractors. It’s unclear if GSA released this broadly or just through its e-Buy platform (now about that soap box…), since Google and SAM.gov searches came up with no results. The Coalition for Government Procurement gets the credit for alerting its members to the RFI. GSA wrote in the RFI, “Software delivery methods have changed over the years. Pricing for software has become complex, and depending on how the software is invoiced there can be a significant difference in pricing. The information received in response to this RFI will be used to explore options to align the Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) with industry practices for pricing and invoicing term-based software.”

The RFI asks five basic questions about how companies price and invoice their software or other cloud services on the schedules compared to commercial practices.

It’s unclear when the due date is for responses. The RFI came out on June 23 so figure sometime in mid-July.

Background: To their credit, GSA has been at the forefront of trying to fix how the government buys and pays for cloud services. Unlike most commercial organizations, the government can’t follow the “pay by the drink” approach. The problem, of course, is the Anti-Deficiency Act. In December 2021, GSA released a final cloud buying policy to let agencies buy cloud services using a consumption-based pricing formula. But it seems that this policy hasn’t had the intended effect GSA wanted and now is looking at ways to change the schedules program itself.

Services in your SEWP

SEWP V is almost two full years from expiring, but the folks in the program office have a plan for the sixth generation IT GWAC.

What you need to know: SEWP VI will be like no other iteration of this ever-growing contract. Joanne Woytek, SEWP program manager, said at the recent Centre Law and Consulting annual review event that the current approach is for the vehicle to have three pools: One contains essentially the same offerings as SEWP V; the second is enterprise-wide IT services;  the third is more task-oriented around IT services for information and communications technologies and audio/visual requirements.

She said NASA’s plan is to release a draft SEWP VI RFP this summer, by August at the latest, and then have an industry day in the fall.

“Then we go into hiding to develop the final RFP and have that out early to mid-next year,” she said.

The award timeline is for May 2025.

Background: SEWP V includes 142 contract holders, more than 9,300 products and services and awards more than $8 billion a year in total task orders. Woytek estimates SEWP V may reach $10 billion or even $12 billion when 2023 is all said and done.  Check out the upcoming contract guide from Federal News Network on SEWP V.

Acquisitions to watch from FBI, IRS and VA

The FBI’s IT Supplies and Support Services (ITSSS-2) second generation blanket purchase agreement solicitation is out as of last Friday.

What you need to know: Remember that soapbox about transparency I mentioned earlier? Well here is a perfect example of why this is a problem. The FBI, working through GSA, released the request for quotes on June 30 through E-Buy, meaning only vendors on the GSA schedule can bid on it. And no other vendor, or reporter for that case, can easily even look at what the FBI is asking for. The FBI stated in a notice on SAM.gov that it’s giving vendors roughly a month to submit bids, due by July 31, and expects to make an award by December.

Background: The FBI restarted the follow-on to this contract — first awarded in 2010 — in February, pushing the draft phase, three different industry feedback sessions and the final release of the RFQ through the process in about six months. The FBI awarded the current ITSS BPA to 46 companies 13 years ago with a $30 billion ceiling. The agency expected ITSSS to be an eight year contract, but had to extend it by five-plus years now for an assortment of reasons, including having to move the acquisition process to GSA in December 2021 because of contracting workforce staffing issues and then pulling it back from GSA in February to manage the contract itself.

The IRS is taking the first step to buy a commercial contract writing system. The Analytics, Research and Technology (ART) Division is looking to replace a legacy system that combines both commercial and customized systems based on a SAP system.

What you need to know: The RFI comes as part of the IRS’s implementation of the Promoting Rigorous and Innovative Cost Efficiencies for Federal Procurement and Acquisitions (PRICE Act), which calls for system modernization. The PRICE Act established the objective of “modernized data analytics, and advanced technologies that allow decision making to occur in a more friction-free buying environment and improve customer experience.” The IRS’ end goal is to have a single, integrated system that supports the complete acquisition lifecycle workflow through a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) product. Comments on the RFI are due by July 24.

Background: This is another example of how the IRS is trying to bring innovation and system modernization to its employees. Agencies have struggled to buy commercial contract writing systems, with the Army and the Navy as recent examples, making the IRS’ effort one to watch for sure in 2024.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking another run at modernizing the system that runs its supply chain. It released a RFP on June 29 hopefully heeding the lessons learned of the past almost 20 years.

What you need to know: VA is looking to do a single award, indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract for 10 years. It plans to take “a system-of-systems approach utilizing existing modular technologies to meet the government’s various objectives. This system-of-systems approach reinforced the government’s need for a single system integrator with the capability to not only provide these various technologies, but also manage the extremely complex integration and implementation into VA’s intricate enterprise environment.” Proposals are due July 18.

Background: This is the fifth attempt since 2004 to bring new technology to manage VA’s supply chain. In 2018, VA tried to use the Defense Logistics Agency known as the Defense Medical Logistics Standard Support (DMLSS), only to run into problems and eventually give up last December. This latest effort to attempt to consolidate and integrate approximately 63 disparate systems across 171 sites to manage VA’s supply chain.

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