Army, VA speed approval processes for technical refreshment

VA and Army
officials want to close the competitive gap between IDIQs and GSA schedule contracts.


One knock against indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts has been that even
their newest products are often out of date.


But some agencies are trying to do something about that.


The Army and the Veterans Affairs Department have whittled to within a month and a
week, respectively, the time it takes them to approve engineering changes to IDIQ buys of
PCs. VA and Army officials said they want to close the competitive gap between their IDIQs
and General Services Administration schedule contracts that list new products within days
of their introduction.


In the last 18 months, the Army Small Computer Program has revamped the way it handles
engineering change proposals, said Tom Leahy, SCP product manager at Fort Monmouth, N.J.


The program now accepts vendor certifications for commercially available peripherals
such as large monitors and CD-ROM drives but continues to run its own benchmark tests on
processors, he said.


The changes coincided with SCP’s adoption of blanket purchasing agreements. The
approval time has been cut in half, counting from the day a vendor’s paperwork
arrives, Leahy said. SCP does less certification for the Army PC-2 and Portable-2
contracts because they are nonmandatory, he said.


At the Army Technology Integration Center at Fort Huachuca, Ariz., officials take notes
about new product submissions in a Microsoft Access database with a Microsoft Excel
spreadsheet front end, said Neil Petersen, technology insertion engineering team leader at
the center.


The nine-employee center approves up to 30 change proposals each year and summarizes
the findings for SCP program managers, Petersen said.


For VA’s Procurement of Computer Hardware and Software program, vendor price
negotiations and paperwork delays sometimes strung out the approval process two to three
weeks, said Craig Niedermeier, director of VA contract administration in Birmingham, Ala.


“We want to make sure they give us better pricing than GSA” schedule
contracts, he said of the PCHS contractors. Once the paperwork and sample products come
in, VA officials try to reach a decision within one week now, Niedermeier said.


Seven VA staff members consult market research and price reasonableness data from
Datapro Information Services Group of Delran, N.J., and GartnerGroup Inc. of Stamford,
Conn., as well as check information on the Web, he said.


For instance, Niedermeier said, VA took two days to approve the recent addition of IBM
ViaVoice speech recognition software to the contract of Vanstar Government Systems Inc. of
Fairfax, Va., and NaturallySpeaking from Dragon Systems Inc. of Newton, Mass., to Compaq
Computer Corp.’s contract.


This spring, Vanstar’s PCHS contract began offering IBM PCs with Intel’s BX
chip set two days after IBM released the computers, he said. His organization performs
safety inspections to ensure that products comply with Veterans Health Administration
mandates.


Like its VA counterpart, the Army Technology Integration Center helps draft requests
for proposals and selects vendors.


The center has advised the Army to give added weight to first-tier PC makers, as
defined by GartnerGroup, in awarding contracts such as Infrastructure Support-1 and PC-3,
Petersen said.   

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