Neal Fox | Alliant GWAC open for business

IT Contracting | Commentary: GSA has finally awarded its flagship IT services contract. But will it live up to expectations?

Neal Fox

The General Services Administration has finally awarded Alliant, its flagship information technology services contract. This long-awaited governmentwide acquisition contract is now the world's largest, valued at $50 billion, and includes 29 vendors that will compete for agency IT services task orders.

So what's really new about Alliant, and will it live up to GSA expectations?

This GWAC represents a significant change in strategy for GSA, as they have now downsized their previously large and varied GWAC portfolio. They will now focus IT services activities to a very few GWACs and the IT Schedule. Alliant is the only large GWAC GSA intends to award for many years, and is replacing GSA's Millennia and ANSWER GWACs, plus a large number of smaller ones that have already been shelved. And Alliant is actually two contracts, with the small business portion to be awarded later this year.

Customers like using GWACs for their ease of providing integrated IT services. The same IT services can be obtained through the GSA IT Schedule, which some agencies prefer to use. But GWACs provide a prepackaged approach with a small number of vetted vendors to choose among, which are the keys to their success. GSA also provides assisted services along with their GWACs and IT schedule, whereby GSA contracting officers can award task orders on those contracts on behalf of an agency for an additional fee. So customers can either order from GSA GWACs directly, or they can have GSA award task orders for them.

It is no secret that GSA has been in a bit of a slump lately, especially with regard to its assisted-services business, and GSA GWAC use has suffered since most task orders have historically been awarded through GSA's assisted services.

So will Alliant bring customers back to GSA GWACs? That will depend in large part on the one GSA customer that has historically accounted for more than half of all GSA business, which is the Defense Department. Thanks in no small part to an overly aggressive and at times out-of-control inspector general, DOD has turned inwardly to award and manage more of its own contract vehicles. Given that GSA is chartered to provide governmentwide contract vehicles to prevent the duplication of contracting, DOD has been going in the wrong direction, especially since it is finding that it does not have enough people to administer all those contract vehicles. But it is trying, so the jury is still out on that one.

Meanwhile, recent attempts by Congress to shift nearly all GSA contracting officers to temporary DOD duty have become another misguided attempt to deal with symptoms instead of root causes. The 2008 DOD Authorization Committee has proposed taking 600 GSA contracting officers and shifting them to DOD contracting duty for one year. Never mind that GSA would be left with practically no contracting officers, the real issue is that DOD should use the tools available to it. This includes using GSA GWACs and GSA contracting officers working for GSA, not GSA contracting officers working under DOD. This is one more misguided proposal out of Congress that shows a complete lack of appreciation for the complexities of the procurement process, much of which Congress has fostered.

But back to Alliant, which provides federal agencies, including DOD, with a one-stop total solution IT services contract vehicle, populated by high-quality vendors, and coupled with GSA oversight to ensure the task order process goes smoothly. DOD and other agencies would do well to spend less time trying to duplicate GSA successes, which would go a long way toward reducing wasted effort trying to recreate what GSA has already provided for governmentwide use.

Neal Fox is the former assistant commissioner for commercial acquisition at GSA, and manages Neal Fox Consulting (nealfoxconsulting.com). He can be reached at nfox@usa.com.

About the Author

Neil Fox is the former assistant commissioner for commercial acquisition at GSA's Federal Supply Service, and is now principal at Neal Fox Consulting.

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