Oops--there's no tech refresh for IWS/LAN

Social Security Administration officials face a dilemma: kill a seven-year, $280
million contract with Unisys Corp. or risk protests by upgrading the contract's PCs
without a technical refreshment clause.


At issue is the Intelligent Workstation/LAN contract, an indefinite-delivery,
indefinite-quantity buy in its second year. Industry sources said if SSA were to let
Unisys substitute faster PCs, IWS/LAN would turn into a sole-source acquisition.


For more than a year, as Unisys installed 100-MHz Pentium PCs from Win Laboratories
Ltd. of Manassas, Va., Intel Corp. processors were speeding up to 233-, 266- and 300-MHz
clock rates.


The top-selling PCs on leading government contracts all have the faster processors (see
chart, Page 6
), and Intel has phased out 100-MHz chips.


But when Unisys offered to install 233-MHz PCs for the same price as 100-MHz systems,
SSA officials balked, according to an industry source.


Late last week, at a House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Social Security hearing,
General Accounting Office officials said SSA reported that the 100-MHz PCs meet current
needs.


"It's a contract administration issue," said John Trollinger, an SSA
spokesman. "We're working hard to come to terms" with Unisys. Mark Root, a
spokesman for Unisys' federal systems division in McLean, Va., confirmed that the
contractor is working with the agency.


But working out a deal with Unisys puts SSA on shaky procurement ground, industry
analysts said.


From a standpoint of equity, SSA should recompete the buy, said Lynn Bateman, managing
editor of Government Contract Advisor of Alexandria, Va. "I don't think Congress will
allow a sole-source upgrade," she said.


Because so many parties are involved in drafting contracts, "everyone probably
assumed that someone else was handling" the IWS/LAN technical refreshment issue,
Bateman said.


Technical refreshment is a gray area under the Federal Acquisition Regulation, another
contracts specialist said. "There are no rules on tech refresh in the FAR," said
Terry Miller, president of Government Sales Consultants Inc. of Great Falls, Va.
"Agencies are dumb as hell about what to do. They have got a mess" at SSA.


The agency might argue that the upgrade is within the scope of work under IWS/LAN, he
said, but SSA probably would draw protests from other vendors if it attempted to get
faster PCs from Unisys. One possible way out would be for SSA officials to sign an 8(a)
set-aside contract with Win Labs for faster systems while continuing to use Unisys for
installation and other services, Miller said.


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