Users continue to adjust to the complexities of federal buying

The numbers, though small, reveal how complex federal procurement can be even two years
after the adoption of commercial practices.

Space center officials began to set out their requirements in fiscal 1998. They wanted
three-year, on-site warranties and installation under four full-and-open-competition
procurements—two for desktop PCs, one for notebooks and one for engineering
workstations, said John Bormann, the contracting officer’s technical representative
at the Information Systems Directorate in Houston.

“Installation is not just delivery but also tweaking and loading the software for
individual users,” Bormann said. “It’s what we call ‘in-the-field
adjustments.’ ”

Budget request delays and other difficulties held back JSC’s Block Buy 8 for
desktop PCs until May 1998. Block Buy 8 called for 1,342 PCs from Applied Computer
Technology Inc. of Fort Collins, Colo., at a cost of about $1.3 million, Bormann said.

In July and August, however, the center’s International Space Station and Life
Sciences organizations pulled out of Block Buy 8, and JSC adjusted the contract downward
to $814,000 for 783 PCs, Bormann said. “There were failures in some machines in
larger quantities than you’d expect,” which led to deployment delays, he said.

Citing a pending final review of Block Buy 8, Bormann declined to comment on the
failure rate. Applied Computer Technology had delivered PCs to JSC under a previous block
buy that went well, he said.

The company delivered PCs with 233-MHz Cyrix Corp. processors, 64M of RAM, 2.1G hard
drives, 2M of video RAM and 10/100-Mbps Ethernet cards. The leftover PCs from Block Buy 8
went to a contract the company had with the Naval Academy, Bormann said.

Applied Computer Technology did not return a reporter’s calls for comment.

The domino effect of changes to the desktop contract led to creation of a new category,
called Block Buy X, which rolled in the requirements for notebooks, engineering
workstations and desktop PCs, Bormann said. Instead of Block Buys 9 through 11, the center
would have a contracting vehicle with more cutting-edge technology for real-time support
of astronauts, medical read-outs and computer-aided drafting. Bormann said the sequential
buys “had resource problems,” in part because the same personnel had to go
through the same long process for each buy. First would come the statement of work and
then the product specifications, followed by a Commerce Business Daily announcement,
request for proposals, evaluations, best-and-final offers and finally an award.

“You cannot nail your requirements too far in advance,” because pricing and
technical capabilities change so quickly, Bormann said. By summertime, “the specifics
for the requirements were set. We weren’t sure how we’d go through the

So JSC dispensed with its preference for full-and-open competition and used an existing
8(a) contract with Raynor Computer Services of Houston, a company that had previously done
on-site installation at the center and could supply three-year, on-site warranties. NASA
encourages buyers to contract with 8(a) vendors whenever possible, Bormann said.

Companies such as Compaq usually do not provide installation or three-year, on-site
warranties through their General Services Administration Information Technology Schedule
contracts, Bormann said, so JSC would have had to pay extra for them or go through a

The center’s users did not stipulate what manufacturer Raynor worked with. But
they did request a vendor rated by National Software Testing Laboratories Inc. of
Conshohocken, Pa., in preparation for the Jan. 1, 1999, launch of the Outsourcing the
Desktop Initiative for NASA contract, held by OAO Corp. of Greenbelt, Md.

Meanwhile, space station and life sciences officials had evaluated Compaq and Digital
Equipment Corp. products during the summer, and they turned over the research they had
compiled, Bormann said.

Raynor also evaluated Dell Computer Corp. and Pantex Computer Inc. products. They also
tried to evaluate Gateway products, he said. Raynor had resold Compaq products but
did not have a relationship with Dell, he said, and the procurement “might have been
delayed if they’d used Dell.”

On Sept. 22, JSC signed a $1.9 million contract with Raynor to provide the 762 Compaq
Deskpro PCs, 85 Armada notebooks and 69 Compaq Professional Workstations.  

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