The Information Technology Alliance for Public Sector is the newest industry association in the federal community.
And as the new kid on the block, ITAPS is facing two uphill battles. One is common among all industry: How to influence the coming changes to the federal procurement system.
The other only ITAPS faces is the need to attract new members while defending itself against a $5 million lawsuit from rival association, TechAmerica.
ITAPS, which spun off from the IT Industry Council in November, is making progress on attracting new members, with six so far and conversations with as many as 55 other IT, communications and Defense Department contractors.
As for the lawsuit, ITAPS and the three senior executives who left TechAmerica must wait until Feb. 7, when the judge makes his first ruling about whether to dismiss the claims or move ahead with discovery and possibly a trial.
“There were no contractual relationships between any of the employees. There were no non-competes in place for any of the employees who chose to come to ITI, and no illegal actions occurred,” said Trey Hodgkins, the senior vice president for the public sector at ITAPS. “In time, that will be borne out by the facts.”
TechAmerica sued the IT Industry Council, which ITAPS is an off-shoot of, and three of the four former employees that went to the new organization — Hodkgins, Pam Walker and Carol Henton — in November, alleging they stole proprietary information, including membership data, and violated their contracts. A fourth employee, Erica McCann, wasn’t involved in the lawsuit.
TechAmerica wants $5 million in damages and for ITAPS to give back and not be able to use any data it alleged the employees took with them.
ITI Council filed a motion to dismiss in December, claiming the allegations don’t meet the standards of law.
Transparent membership dues
Hodgkins said the ITAPS is trying to expand the types of and number of companies it wants as members.
“The memberships are separate. We did that intentionally because we want to bring in a broader scope of companies facing the public sector market, not just technology companies, which is the narrower focus of ITI,” he said. “The specific sectors we are looking at are the Defense industrial base, the IT sector and the communications sector. If you look at the technologies, cloud computing, mobility, big data and big data analytics, mobile data and cybersecurity, those things are being deployed and innovations are occurring every day from companies in those three sectors, and so those are our primary focus and the types of sector companies we are going after.”
He also said ITAPS’ membership fees structure is transparent. It charges anywhere from $5,000 a year for a business with less than $30 million in revenue to $50,000 a year for companies with $1 billion in revenue or more.
ITAPS’ goal is to facilitate the collaboration, coordination and understanding of these technologies.
ITAPS hopes to play a big role in one of the most significant issues every vendor is facing: reforms to the way agencies buy technology in the wake of the HealthCare.gov debacle.
Hodgkins said there is strong indication President Barack Obama will mention IT procurement reform in his State of the Union speech next week. If he does that, that sets the tone in terms of importance of the effort.
ITAPS took part in a wide-ranging industry meeting in December with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Office of Management and Budget’s E-Government office, where they talked about short-term and long-term reform ideas.
“We are looking at things that might be impacted by an Executive Order or perhaps the issuance of guidance by the federal CIO or OFPP, or initiatives that could relatively quickly move through bodies like the federal CIO Council,” Hodgkins said. “So one of the areas that has emerged that is of great interest certainly for industry, and I think HealthCare.gov is a great teaching moment on this point, is management. There was some movement of the needle around management in the 25- point plan. The Office of Personnel Management created a specific career path for IT management, but we believe it’s now time to pick that up and move it further.”
Restoring commercial item preferences
He said it would include training of federal workers on new and leading edge technologies so they understand what they are buying and how best to put together the contracting requirements.
ITAPS, of course, is paying close attention to what Congress is doing with IT acquisition reform. Lawmakers failed to pass the Federal IT Acquisition Reform Act (FITARA), but the authors, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), likely will reintroduce the bill later this year. Additionally, the Senate is jumping on the bandwagon to push forward IT reforms.
Another area ITPAS said OMB should focus on is the restoration of the preference for commercial items. Hodgkins said there has been an erosion of how agencies treat the purchase of commercial goods, under FAR Part 12. He said too often agencies apply too many government-only requirements on companies, and that keeps innovation out of the government and limits competition.
“I don’t know the if options that are created in an acquisition always arrive at best value for the taxpayer, because we don’t create an open, competitive marketplace that allows a commercial company to relatively easily compete their products alongside those of others. We’ve created, sort of, a two-track process,” he said. “You have commercial items and there will be things we can acquire through the GSA schedule. But when we are talking about bigger integration, it’s becoming more and more difficult. And you have to remember that preference applies not to just going and buying a cellphone, for example. It applies to a major weapons system integration at DoD where that integrator can rely on a commercial product as a component in that system, they are also supposed to maintain that preference. A number of barriers are making that more and more difficult.”
The barriers include a complex cost accounting system, that isn’t required in any other sectors, more requirements around providing data so agencies know they are getting the best price, and new supply chain requirements specifically from DoD.
ITAPS also would like to see OMB, OFPP and the FAR Council take a second look at information collection requirements for data. ITAPS did research and found companies spent about $2 billion over nine months to answer questions for the government.
Hodgkins said the association would like to see the government review these requests to reduce redundancies and find efficiencies in the processes.
Procurement recommendations coming
There are several other areas where ITAPS says contractors should be concerned about or at least paying close attention to.
GSA and DoD soon will release their recommendations required under the cyber executive order that is just about a year old now on how to encourage implementation through acquisition incentives.
Pam Walker, ITAPS’ director of federal homeland security, said the final draft report is awaiting Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s signature. She said ITAPS heard the recommendations haven’t changed dramatically since the draft report, which was finished in June.
Walker said GSA and DoD will release the recommendations and ask industry for comment through a request for information.
Walker said DoD also will issue guidance on cybersecurity for weapons systems this spring. Contractors also will have to implement the final rule that came out last month around safeguarding unclassified data on unclassified networks owned and operated by vendors.
Additionally, the Senate is starting to follow the House’s efforts to look at DoD procurement reform. Hodgkins said the Senate Armed Services Committee may be taking a deep dive into the issues and reforms, similar to the one the House Armed Services Committee started this fall.
Despite these and many other challenges and issues, Hodgkins said the contracting environment is more stable than at any point in the last five years.
The fiscal 2014 continuing resolution Congress passed and Obama signed earlier this month, and the positive signs for 2015 seem to give both industry and government some stability that has been missing.
Hodgkins said the confidence in spending for at least 2014 gave agencies and vendors much needed relief.
“For the first time in a long time, both the government and vendors have significant degree of fiscal certainty at least for the rest of this year, and hopefully we’ve put it on the glide path for next year as well,” he said. “Companies can make the appropriate investments and understand the needs and mission requirements of their customers so everyone can align what they want to do. Agencies are building requirements now. They can take a longer term view and talk to vendors more thoroughly and effectively about what their planning is. Hopefully, we have created at least a glide path toward a return to a process that was more regularized and you had a greater degree of fiscal certainty.”