By Jason Miller
Federal News Radio
Technology vendors get ready: it’s going to be a busy winter. The Homeland Security Department’s Customs and Border Protection directorate will issue about $1 billion in requests for proposals over the next six months.
After more than three years of planning, CBP is recompeting a majority of its technology services contracts in an effort to modernize its network infrastructure and find actual dollar savings to move to mission critical needs.
“There is a lot of activities that will be going on,” said Ken Ritchhart, CBP’s deputy assistant commissioner in the Office of Information and Technology and deputy chief information officer at an event sponsored by IAC in Washington. “Some of our projects have been in the process of being recompeted for almost three years now because we are trying to change from the old type of contract, time-and-materials, and move toward performance-based contracts. We need the metrics and capabilities to measure what they are producing.”
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Some vendors at the IAC event expressed frustration at CBP’s inability to get these procurements out. One vendor said the agency continues to say soon, but never comes through.
Ritchhart said CBP understands contractor frustration and has made changes so as not to fall into the cycle of broken promises again.
“It’s taken way too long to get the capabilities out the door that we would like to see, partially because we’ve had a shortfall of enough contracting officers to get the job done and they are over stressed on doing things. We’ve been proactively engaging with Tiffany Hixson in our Chief Procurement Office for doing the activities, and we have regular meetings and exchanges of things. We are going to institute capabilities working with them and OTIA for technology acquisition capabilities, a new process for acquisition review boards and doing better work up front to clarify acquisition strategy and make sure the contracting officers and program managers are on the same sheet.”
He added CBP also is developing standard documentation for contracting.
Over the next six months, vendors should look to DHS Eagle technology services contract along with other governmentwide contract vehicles. Ritchhart said CBP is working the General Services Administration to identify the best approach to getting these RFPs out the door.
He said incumbent vendors should not assume they have any advantage during these competitions. CBP will hold another industry day in February to help explain its plans. The agency also held a vendor meeting in October.
CBP, like most agencies, is facing a budget crunch and IT has been hit hard.
Ritchhart said CBP’s IT budget is down $306 million over the last two years and $216 million in 2011 alone.
“It means severe reductions in staff,” he said. “It’s a major hit for us in terms of doing things. It’s required to meet the payroll to keep the agents and officers employed. It means we have to change the way we do al lot of these activities.”
Ritchhart added CBP wants to move away from custom built systems, servers and workstations, and move to commodity, or commercial, systems. The agency will consolidate its data centers and its network and security operations centers in the DHSwide facilities for these functions. CBP recently awarded HP a contract to provide e-mail and Sharepoint services.
“We are spending about two-thirds of our budget on operations and maintenance of our legacy systems,” he said. “I want to change that to about one-third, and spend one-third on development, modernization and enhancements and one-third on technology refresh. Right now there is no money for technology refresh.”
Not only is there no money for technology updates, but IT programs are losing money to help meet payroll.
“We are going through and giving other program reductions, about a 20 percent last year,” Ritchhart said. “We are going for another 30 percent reduction this year. The problem is I have to pay for software and hardware maintenance up front so I have to take a larger cut on the other support. So overall we are taking a 35 percent reduction in the overall contractor support this year.”
He added that CBP is in the process of cutting about 1,200 contractors from its rolls and adding about 1,000 federal employees.
“We can save about $40,000 per contractor we bring in house,” he said. “In some of the higher end positions, we can save $60-to-$80,000 per person. We’ve saved about $30 million a year so far.”
Ritchhart said CBP also has reduced the number of field technical support to 900 from 1,200 by automating and centralizing network controls and help desk services.
“We are in a situation where we don’t have quite as much leeway as you like to have to have the overlap,” he said. “We will have drastic reductions. The reductions have to come so we will have little more risk in operating without a net.”
Another way to cut how much money CBP is spending on operations and maintenance (O&M) of legacy systems is by modernizing applications.
Ritchhart said CBP is taking the I-94 form from a manual process to one that is automated as an example of updating a costly system.
He also said CBP has more than 5,400 servers and 65,000 computer workstations that are not standardized. Ritchhart said using a private cloud capability, standardizing the servers and workstations so they are not so complex and holding vendors more accountable are some of the short term ways CBP will save money to use on other mission-critical needs.
Many agencies have the same challenge as CBP in spending too much on O&M. In 2009, for instance, agencies spent $49 billion on operations and maintenance out of $71 billion governmentwide IT budget. This large amount of spending on O&M is one reason the Office of Management and Budget wants agencies to move to cloud computing because of the potential cost savings.
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