New NIH/NITAAC GWACs Offer Streamlined Ordering, Innovation, and 'Everything IT'
Valued at $20 billion each, CIO-SP3 and CIO-SP3 Small Business are poised for growth.
When the National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) created the new Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners 3 (CIO-SP3) program, NITAAC officials wanted to do more than simply select a new set of contract holders. “Our goal was to also offear agencies faster competitions, easier ordering and even better prices,” said Robert Coen, NITAAC Deputy Program Director, regarding the recently awarded CIO-SP3 and CIO-SP3 Small Business Government-wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs).
While NIH GWACs are known for their deep expertise in health and biomedical information technology services and solutions, program officials emphasize that contract holders are exceedingly skilled in all areas of IT to match any demand placed on the contract, including systems integration, cybersecurity, cutting-edge technologies such as cloud and virtualization, enterprise resource planning, and software development, just to name a few. Agencies can issue task orders for the full range of IT services through the indefinite- delivery, indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts.
“This vehicle will level the playing field, and create more meaningful opportunities for small businesses to compete.”
Mary Armstead, NITAAC Program Director
“CIO-SP3 isn’t just for NIH or just for health IT,” said Coen. “It is a flexible and all-encompassing IDIQ contract that can be utilized for any IT requirement. It’s everything IT.” At a time when many agency acquisition organizations are stretched to the limit, the new CIO-SP3 contracts can eliminate the need for agencies to spend valuable resources creating their own contracts and, additionally, provide procurement officials with effective processes and tools for managing complex IT acquisitions. Among the many advantages of using CIO-SP3, agencies get access to:
• High-quality large and small businesses that have already been pre-qualified to provide IT services and solutions through rigorous source selection at the master contract level
• Competitive service rates and pricing that are pre-negotiated at the master contract level, and driven lower by negotiation at the task order level
• Free training
• Streamlined ordering and procedures under FAR 16.505, for quick and effective task order competition
• End-to-end management and control over task orders
• A host of services, such as ordering templates, statement-of-work and scope reviews within one day, and a customer service center that responds, on average, in less than one hour to questions and concerns.
Faster, Easier and Cost Competitive
GWACs operate under Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 16.505, which streamlines the acquisition process. For example, competitions are based on Fair Opportunity versus full and open competition, which means requirements are competed among NITAAC awardees who have been pre-selected through a rigorous source selection process. There is no requirement to synopsize requirements or post on FedBizOpps. Contract holders have already been formally evaluated for technical expertise, past performance and other qualifications, which enables customers to use simplified evaluations when making their selections. There are many other benefits to GWAC competition, all of which result in significant savings in time, money and resources for the customers.
Regarding CIO-SP3’s labor rates, a NITAAC analysis shows they are 15 percent lower than any other federal IDIQ contract of its size, according to Coen. “We spent an enormous amount of time negotiating the costs on this vehicle,” Coen said.
“We’ve done the work to drive down prices, make it easy to place an order, and make sure we have the best-of-the-best contractors,” said Mary Armstead, NITAAC Program Director.
One of the most significant advantages of using CIO-SP3 is its upgraded Electronic Government Ordering System (e-GOS), which streamlines and automates the task order process, officials said. The automated e-GOS system enables federal acquisition professionals to maintain control throughout every phase of the procurement; they set the schedule and conduct the competition based on their own needs and the complexity of their requirements.
FAR guidance is also built into the system so that officials understand their responsibilities and can comply with applicable regulations.
“We have invested a lot of money to design and build a system that guides customers every step of the way and tells them how to issue an order,” Coen said. “It’s an intuitive, automatic system, and has built-in guidance to keep customers on track.”
Agencies can use the system to:
• Create Requests for Information (RFI)
• Create and post solicitations
• Organize question and answer periods
• Create amendments to solicitations
• Conduct discussions and negotiations
• Send post award notification to offerors automatically
• Manage and store documents to create an archived record of the entire pro curement process
“NITAAC has taken a lot of steps forward with its electronic ordering system,” said Ray Bjorklund, Vice President and Chief Knowledge Officer with the research and consulting firm Deltek. “Customers are going to migrate toward a contract vehicle that makes life easy for them.”
“People are really surprised when they see how streamlined the ordering process and task order competitions are,” said Michelle Street, a NITAAC Program Analyst who oversees customer service and training. “They realize immediately that this will make their lives easier.”
Broad and Flexible Scope
CIO-SP3 has the flexibility to refresh its scope to incorporate new and innovative technologies that emerge during the life of the contract. Currently, CIO-SP3 encompasses 137 labor categories and 10 broad task areas, but new labor categories can be added at the task order level by the ordering agency. The contract’s scope was broad enough to incorporate cloud computing, virtualization solutions, and other emerging technology requirements.
“We know technology will change, and so the task areas are broad enough to allow the CIO-SP3 contract to evolve and expand with the technology” said Armstead. “If a requirement falls under the FAR [Federal Acquisition Regulation] definition of information technology, then our vendors can provide it.”
The contract’s new “Ramp-on/Ramp-off” capability will also help keep CIO-SP3 fresh, said Armstead. This feature provides a mechanism for adding new contract holders or, if necessary, allowing them to gracefully exit the program. While NITAAC officials don’t expect frequent use of this feature on the full-and-open contract, they envision a potential need on CIO-SP3 Small Business to assure adequate set-aside pools.
“We want to make sure that we have a robust body of contractors that are keeping up with the technology and are actively participating in the program as it develops,” said Armstead.
“CIO-SP3 isn’t just for NIH or just for health IT. It is a flexible and all-encompassing IDIQ contract that can be utilized for any IT requirement. It’s everything IT.”
Robert Coen, NITAAC Deputy Program Director
Federal procurement officials who are unfamiliar with GWACs sometimes worry that they will lose control of their acquisition program if they use these vehicles. This will not happen, NITAAC officials said.
“Buyers control their procurements,” Coen said. “They control how fast they do it; they control the requirements; they control the source selection process; and they control the administration of the task order throughout its lifecycle.” In addition, the process is flexible enough to allow agencies to conduct best and final offers (BAFOs), hold additional negotiations to drive down costs, or take other steps to get the services and solutions they need.
Some officials also worry that CIO-SP3 cannot handle requirements that are unique to their agency’s mission. Again, this worry is unfounded, NITAAC officials said. CIO-SP3 is set up with the basic rules that every contract must have, and then agencies can add terms or conditions, including new labor categories, to satisfy their agency-specific requirements. “We are here to support our customers as much as they need it, but they retain control over the procurement,” Street said.
New Customer Service Features
In addition to upgrading e-GOS, NITAAC has implemented—or is in the process of implementing—other new services to accompany the awards of the CIO-SP3 contracts. For example, NITAAC will soon launch a new online training system that will be self-paced and self directed. “The online training will provide all of the elements that people receive in face-to-face training,” Street said.
NITAAC officials are also automating the templates that help agencies with their acquisition planning. These include templates for creating SOWs, Quality Assurance Survey Plans, Example Instruction to Offerors, and Independent Government Cost Estimate, which can be difficult and time consuming to compile. NITAAC officials will soon be releasing templates for Labor Rate Averages, Contract Holder Labor Rates, and Terms and Conditions.
Many of these templates were previously available to NITAAC customers, but automation makes the templates easier to use. “People can just input the numbers and the template puts it together for them,” Coen said.
NITAAC officials are also refreshing the website to make it easier to navigate for customers and contract holders. “It’s one of the better government websites I have seen in awhile,” Deltek’s Bjorklund said.