SEWP evolves to meet changing demands

NASA’s Solutions for Enterprisewide Procurement (SEWP) is one of the most popular IT purchasing vehicles in the federal space, so it would be hard to see the space agency changing something that clearly is far from broken.

And that is indeed expected to be the case when the next iteration of the contract, SEWP V, starts up in May 2014 after a two-year development process. Those people who both buy and sell through SEWP IV should be able to smoothly switch to SEWP V, which program managers have labeled an evolutionary step in the contract’s progress.

There will be changes, however. Some of them reflect the success both of SEWP itself and that of governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) in general. Other changes, if the SEWP managers can pull them off, will put the contract firmly in the vanguard of a government procurement arena that needs to keep pace with a rapidly changing IT universe.

That will also cement SEWP’s status as a premier vehicle for the entire government. It’s the only contract so far that can claim it’s being used by every federal agency. But that also sets up something of a conundrum for those who run the contract.

“I’m a NASA employee, and my first loyalty is to make sure that I’m supporting NASA. Otherwise, SEWP doesn’t have a reason to be,” said Joanne Woytek, SEWP program manager. “On the other hand, I do have a staff of 40 or so people who are there to support the entire program, so I have to make sure they are also helping the whole government,” which is the aim of the charter granted to SEWP as a GWAC by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Government overall certainly does not look at SEWP as just a NASA vehicle anymore, said Larry Allen, president of Allen Federal Business Partners and former president of the Coalition for Government Procurement. If you see the agencies that now look to SEWP for their IT purchases, he said, it’s definitely viewed as multi-agency in nature.

“I think that very much influences what [the program office] is doing with SEWP,” he said. “They are very mindful of making sure they are a useful instrument for those multiple federal agencies.”

Some of the proposed changes in SEWP V will have an impact on how the contract is used, but they are in line with the evolutionary approach that the program is supposed to be taking.

The performance period and ceiling value of the contract are being raised, for example. SEWP V will have a duration of 10 years, compared to the seven years of SEWP IV, while the contract limit goes to $20 billion from the previous $5.6 billion.

Those changes reflect what seems to be the overall trend in governmentwide vehicles, Woytek said. It also takes time to put these kinds of contracts together. For industry, that means also having to put a lot of money into the process, and companies generally need more than five years to get that money back before they have to start over again preparing for the next version of the contract.

There will also be a cut in the number of competition groups, from 13 in SEWP IV to just five in SEWP V. Category A covers just one computer systems and server group, and Category B provides for the complementary product groups of mass storage devices, server support devices, networking/security and videoconferencing tools.

The main difference is in the computer and server group, Woytek said. When SEWP I was awarded, there was a big difference in the kinds of systems that did things such as graphics, databases and printing.

“Now a computer is a computer, and it’s the software that drives it all,” she said. “You don’t have to go to any one company because it manufactures X, so it made sense to combine them [into one group]. Even with SEWP IV, after the award, we realized they were all the same.”

Two areas of emphasis in the new contract will be completely new to SEWP, however. Neither will change the way vendors or users work with the contract, but it will mean a difference in the kind of information contract holders have to provide. If SEWP managers are successful in incorporating the changes into the contract, it will put it at the leading edge of issues that will be central to government procurement in the future.

The first area is supply chain risk management. It has been an underlying concern for government for some time, but it’s become a far more urgent issue given the global outsourcing that the IT industry has invested in over the past decade to manufacture computer products. Government has become increasingly bothered by the potential for tainted products that could cause performance or security problems in federal IT systems.

“We’re really trying to lead the way to show what a program of our nature can do in that arena,” Woytek said.

The other area is strategic sourcing. The Obama administration wants agencies to target a range of products that everyone uses and take advantage of bulk buying to purchase those products at much cheaper prices. The difficulty for vehicles such as SEWP is knowing exactly what the intent is behind this initiative so they can come up with the right language to use.

Woytek said she and program managers from the National Institutes of Health and the General Services Administration, which run the other GWACs, are working with OMB to see how they can help lead this effort.

One thing that won’t be in SEWP V is a separate product group for cloud computing. Some vendors had brought the issue up early in the development process and suggested widening the kinds of cloud products that could be offered. However, Woytek said that given the overall goal of trying to reduce the number of product groups, the fact that vendors can put cloud products into any of their offerings will be adequate to cover this. It will be up to the agency customers to decide what best fits their needs.

“We consider cloud to be something that straddles the product/services world,” she said. “There are too many options out there, and we’d rather have the market drive things and not our program.”

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At a Glance

  • SEWP V is a firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, multi-award GWAC focused on IT products and solutions. Product-based services such as installation, training, maintenance and warranty are also available.
  • It will have a 10-year effective ordering period, with a $20 billion contract limit.
  • The fee charged for processing orders will be lower than SEWP IV’s 0.45 percent, though exactly what it will be had not been decided as of early June.
  • Because the fee will be incorporated into the price of the products, similar to GSA’s practice, SEWP V will not initially impose a cap on fees, though it could later as budgets and the procurement process allow.
  • Release of the final RFP was expected before the end of June, with proposals due Aug. 8.
  • Contract awards are expected by April 30, 2014, with an effective date of May 1.

Contract Competition Groups

Full and Open:

  • Group A: Computer Technology (Computers/Servers/Cloud Services) — Original Equipment Manufacturers
  • Group D: Supporting Technology (Network/Security) — Value-Added Resellers

Small Business Set-Aside:

  • Group B: Supporting Technology (Storage Devices) — Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
  • Group B: Supporting Technologies (Storage Devices) — Historically Underutilized Business Zones
  • Group C: Supporting Technologies (Multi-Functional Devices/Audio Visuals) — Small Business

Full and Open:

  • Group A: Computer Technology (Computers/Servers/Cloud Services) — Original Equipment Manufacturers
  • Group D: Supporting Technology (Network/Security) — Value-Added Resellers

Small Business Set-Aside:

  • Group B: Supporting Technology (Storage Devices) — Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
  • Group B: Supporting Technologies (Storage Devices) — Historically Underutilized Business Zones
  • Group C: Supporting Technologies (Multi-Functional Devices/Audio Visuals) — Small Business