The next steps for Netcents

Air Force already considering a new IT services contract to replace the existing deal when it expires in 2009

Netcents at a glance

Who: Air Force

What: Network-Centric Solutions contract

Type: Five-year,indefinite-delivery,indefinite-quantity contract, expires in 2009

Scope: Includes engineering, software development, integration, security and telephone services, as well as voice, video and data hardware and software supporting the Defense Department's Global Information Grid architecture
Ceiling: $9 billion

Who can use it: All federal agencies

Fee to use contract: One percent

Fiscal 2005 revenue: $600 million

Vendors: Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. of McLean, Va.; Centech Group Inc. of Arlington, Va.; General Dynamics Corp.; Lockheed Martin Corp.; Multimax Inc. of Largo, Md.; NCI Information Systems Inc. of Reston, Va.; Northrop Grumman Corp.; and Telos Corp. of Ashburn, Va.

Web site: https://ossg.gunter.af.mil/aq/
netcents/homepage.aspx

'NEVER a big fan': Former Air Force CIO John Gilligan feels big contracts like Netcents usually remain works in progress.

As the Air Force heads into the third year of its massive, five-year Network Centric Solutions contract, the service is already planning the $9 billion vehicle's replacement.

'Netcents already has a shelf life and we're starting to think about how we can replace it,' said Matthew Benavides, director of acquisitions and commodities at the Air Force's Operations and Sustainment Systems Group near Montgomery, Ala.

Benavides spoke at the FOSE trade show sponsored by PostNewsweek Tech Media, parent company of GCN, last month in Washington.

Limited shelf life

The contract's expiration in late 2009 is 'kind of a vulnerability, if you will,' Benavides said after his speech. 'It just means from a service offering, we don't have as much useful life that customers would need as they see some of their enterprise challenges going forward.'

While Benavides said the service is being 'proactive' in searching for a Netcents follow-up, John Gilligan, former Air Force CIO and now a vice president and deputy director of the defense sector at SRA International Inc. of Fairfax, Va., said the timing is a bit unusual.

'It does take a fair amount of time to put these big contracts to work, but this is a bit early,' he said.

Gilligan said he was never a big fan of indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts the size of Netcents because that usually means the contracts remain works in progress.

'Netcents was written too broadly, and I found that when you put large offerings in an IDIQ contract, the labor structure' doesn't always fit, he said. The result 'is that the contract is constraining you more than it is helping you.'

For example, Gilligan said if a division within the Air Force simply wanted someone to run a network or computer center, that task would have to be negotiated again with the eight companies on the Netcents contract.

But Benavides said the Air Force is solidly behind Netcents and noted that the CIO's office wants the service's IT organizations to use the contract for 80 percent of its IT purchases. 'There are critics of the contract that may not see the utility of using an enterprisewide contract but the [CIO's office] is steadfast in its support,' he said.

He also said that Air Force is moving sooner rather than later, because the process for replacing a contract the size of Netcents is daunting.

'In September we will begin the third year of a five-year contract, and for an enterprise contract of this magnitude, we expect the acquisition process to be at least as complex as it was for Netcents,' he said. 'Therefore, we believe that we are very much on track as we start to assemble 'lessons learned' and begin formulating recommendations for an acquisition strategy for the follow-on contract.'

Benavides said Netcents has been a 'tremendous success' and that in fiscal 2005 the service obligated more than $600 million to the contract, with about 53 percent going to small businesses.

Other developments

In the meantime, Benavides said, the service is close to moving forward on two other significant procurements to supplement Netcents: IT Services and IT Services-small business.

'We anticipate there will be a follow-on to Netcents sometime in 2009, but the planning process can take up to two years for a contract of this magnitude,' Benavides said. 'In addition, we will also be developing other contracts like the IT Services follow-on in the meantime to supplement Netcents.'

The Air Force will likely hold an industry day and release a draft request for proposals for IT Services in May, with a final RFP in July and an award by the end of the year, he said.

For the small-business version, Benavides said the Air Force would likely have a draft RFP out this November and award the contract by February 2007.

The IT Services contracts will offer a full range of IT services and solutions, including software, networks, security, engineering, data, training, management and other related IT services, such as consulting and subject matter experts, he said.

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