Mandatory Use Creates Stable Base
The Air Force has made using NETCENTS-2 mandatory for all of its buyers of IT products and solutions that fit in with the agency’s push for net-centric IT. It’s also a resource the Air Force intends to use to ensure its purchases meet the Air Force’s goal for a more agile and faster-reacting procurement regime.
A September 2014 memo from the Air Force Secretary’s office, reinforcing an earlier instruction, points out the requirements for NETCENTS-2 contracts had been specifically designed to support increasingly network-centric military operations. The contracts support not only new technology lifecycles, but also sustaining and reengineering legacy operations. To that end, the memo states, NETCENTS-2 contracts “will be the primary source used by Air Force customers to support missions that require voice, data and video communications, information services, solutions, and products.”
There are waivers available for users who think their procurements fall outside the net-centric requirements. In those cases, they can locate and procure products or services from other sources and contracts. In effect, however, since all Air Force IT infrastructure is being geared towards a net-centric future, waivers to mandatory use are bound to be few and far between.
That’s not to say there are no approved purchases of IT outside the NETCENTS-2 contracts. The Air Force has informed the vendor community if they see an RFQ in the wild that appears to be within the scope of NETCENTS-2, they should assume it’s operating with the correct authorizations, says Amy Kosatka, Air Force program manager at CDW-G. With that in mind, she says RFQs that fit that criteria have occasionally appeared on contracting sites such as the General Services Administration and FedBizOpps.
One goal of the mandatory use policy is to ensure a broad level of technical competence throughout the Air Force network and IT infrastructure. Products acquired through NETCENTS-2 will adhere to a set of standards, ensuring both current and future networks will be able to seamlessly interoperate with each other.
It also gives the Air Force better visibility into what its various units are buying, when they are buying it, and what they are paying for it. That helps with better planning and projections of needs and spending.
Also, individual units don’t have to write their own contracts for products and services and compete them. They can simply issue task orders through NETCENTS-2 vendors whose products and solutions have been pre-qualified by the Air Force as meeting the necessary net-centric requirements.
NETCENTS-2 is open to other government users outside the Air Force, though in practice it still tends to be primarily for Air Force use. Most non-Air Force purchases seem to be tied into supporting Air Force operations in some way, says Kosatka.
Mandatory use also provides stability to vendors on NETCENTS-2, something they may not get with other contracts. In other situations, even if you make a sale, users may still be free to find a better deal elsewhere. With NETCENTS-2, the sale has been competed within the contract, so users under mandate to use the contract should be assured it’s the best deal they will get.