Be wary of agencies' per-seat price figures | GCN

Since the award of the General Services Ad-ministration’s Seat
Management Program, the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA (ODIN) and the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ seat management contracts, many in government have
eagerly awaited the first wave of by-the-seat pricing to see where they might fall in
terms of total cost of ownership.


After ATF awarded its seat management contract using GSA’s Federal Supply
Schedule, $3,400 was cited as the agency’s annual cost per PC seat. Although many
feds accepted that claim, few understood how ATF’s per-seat price was calculated. At
a recent Washington conference, ATF’s chief information officer, Patrick Schambach,
explained that the price per seat was calculated simply by totaling the contract line
items and dividing by the number of seats. In this instance, the price per seat was based
on the seat management contractor’s support only. It did not include any internal
operational costs.


NASA recently awarded two delivery orders under its ODIN contract: one for the Goddard
Space Flight center and another for the four other Office of Space Flight centers. One
overly enthusiastic source soon reported Goddard’s fixed monthly price per seat as a
flat $99. Sure enough, others started using that figure as a benchmark for their own
agencies.


Another, perhaps more realistic, source at NASA informed me that no per-seat prices
have yet been calculated at Goddard and that the $99 per seat claim was purely
speculative. Nonetheless, that $99 figure had phones at GSA’s Seat Management Program
Office ringing off the hook recently. Representatives of both industry and government were
asking about the prices NASA accepted: Were they too low or too high, and what did they
represent? My response: “I don’t know!”


There are so many variables that drive the price of a seat that it would be impossible
to comment on any purported price without a detailed understanding of NASA’s
equipment and service requirements.


Probably none of the five space flight centers supported under ODIN purchased identical
services for their distributed computing. Calculating the costs using the number of staff
isn’t much help because some space flight centers run successive daily shifts of
personnel through the same seats.


Every seat contract bundles and prices products and services differently. Some include
government-furnished equipment, others contractor-furnished equipment only. Some include
telecommunication products and services, others only services.


GSA plans to work with the other agencies to try to normalize seat pricing, or at least
standardize how prices are calculated—by no means a trivial undertaking. Until
something like price normalization is achieved, though, GSA wants to warn agencies that
not all seats are created equal n


Wanda M. Smith is the program manager for the Seat Management Program at the General
Services Administration’s Federal Technology Service.

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