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IT Acquisition Best Practices & Dispelling Myths

In June, I read a great open letter from Susan M. Gordon, Deputy Director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, that explained how to make sure we’re doing the best we can to get technology and related services to help us meet our missions.

This blog post is an open letter follow-up with seven best practices for agencies acquiring mission enhancing IT solutions such as software, hardware, telecommunications, cybersecurity, cloud, satellite, mobile, and other IT. These tips should help dispel some common myths.

  1. Make Market Research Personal – Don’t assume market research on paper and the Internet gives you the full picture. You’ll need to talk to experts each time you need an acquisition. Talk to industry, other agencies with similar requirements, and GSA. We administer many government-wide shared IT acquisition contracts. Check out the government’s open and independent resource – the Government Acquisition Gateway and hallways – as a starting point. You’ll find white papers, best practices, potential and existing contracts from GSA and other sources, and community discussion groups where you can ask questions and talk with other agencies.
  2. Always Talk to GSA – Each time you need IT, talk to us about pre-established contracts that might work well for you. It won’t take a lot of time to talk to us – we can use video conferencing or visit you in person. Contact a GSA Customer Service Director in your area to schedule a meeting. In addition to contract vehicles, GSA may be able to share an agency contact with you that recently addressed the same challenges and perhaps developed a best practice in the process. Even if you don’t have a live requirement at the moment, using GSA as a resource for strategic ongoing market research will make for better, well-educated, future buying decisions.
  3. Let Go of Preconceived Judgments – Some people have predetermined notions of many of the pre-established contracts. Letting go of preconceived judgments opens the door to finding the best solutions. For example, you may be surprised to learn how much control you have while using pre-established vehicles, and you may be amazed to find you can often and easily obtain lower pricing through additional negotiations than published, list prices.
  4. Know that Things Change – Don’t think that the government-wide contract you or your contractor checked a year ago is still the same. GSA and other agencies continuously refresh shared contracts and make them more user-centric every day. We’re talking more to government and industry. We constantly seek input on what agencies need today and what industry can offer. We are evolving contracts to meet those needs. For example, this year we’ve added a Cloud SIN to IT Schedule 70 to help agencies find their best cloud solutions easier than ever before. Even though a contract didn’t meet every need in the past doesn’t mean today’s options won’t be your best choices. The GSA of today is not the GSA of yesterday.
  5. Dig Further – If you have an industry partner working with you on market research and acquisition planning who recommends you go open source rather than use an existing contract, do you stop there?As a best practice, don’t. Keep in mind that in-house advisers have more involvement and financial benefit in doing steps required for open-source acquisitions, while pre-established contracts have those steps already completed. For example, if you have a contractor doing market research who recommends going open market for commercial satellite services, consider instead that GSA’s Custom SATCOM (CS2) and CS2-SB contracts have vetted partners and solutions without the overhead and cost of creating an entirely new contract. And remember to evaluate advisor recommendations to ensure they don’t steer toward a specific contract because they’re on it.
  6. Look for Efficiencies – Agencies who use existing contract vehicles with the IDIQ Fair Opportunity process or Multiple Award Contract/Blanket Purchase Agreements (BPAs) save months in acquisition lead time. Why? Because many of the initial steps and approvals required to establish a full stand-alone procurement action, including pre-qualifying industry partners,  have already been done for you. Having to find and qualify contractors can add six months or more to the procurement process.
  7. Lower Agency and Taxpayer Costs – Government-wide contracts can achieve cost savings because multiple agencies are already using them, increasing volume buying from government to industry partners and driving competition to lower costs. I did a recent blog post, for example, about the FSSI Wireless BPAs and how they’re saving agencies on average 27% over what they had been spending on wireless services and devices. Start at the published contract pricing, but always request discounts and lower pricing. Whether you get discounts in initial years or option years, your actual cost will be lower than the initial cost evaluation.

The ultimate motivator and driver for all of us in public service isn’t what we perceive or think is best, but what we find after due diligence is really best for our missions and the American taxpayers.

If you chose not to use GSA for an IT acquisition, it’s ok. But a fresh conversation with GSA should always be part of the equation.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITS to join the conversation.

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FSSI Wireless Averages 27% Savings for Agencies

Officials from a number of agencies shared their success stories on June 8 about how they’ve implemented the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI) Wireless BPAs to save money, averaging between 27% to 40% in cost savings from their previous wireless spend.

The Enterprise Mobility Program Workshop held at GSA’s 1800 F Street office was attended by agency representatives from across the government anxious to hear how they can save time and money managing their agency’s wireless programs. Attendees heard a thorough explanation of GSA’s Enterprise Mobility Program from agencies that have already made the switch, including helpful tips, strategies, and best practices for moving to FSSI Wireless BPAs.

Adoption is strong with 86% of cabinet level agencies now using the Wireless BPAs to cut dollars from their agency wireless spend and achieve pricing that now averages $39.77/month per user.

DOD, DHS, HHS, SBA, DOT, VA, FCC, MDA, SSA, DOI, and many others have executed successfully against the BPAs, and as a result have been saving their agencies – and U.S. taxpayers – money.

An online webinar is also planned Tuesday, July 21 for agency participants. Register for the event today!

You can also click on the link below to view a video of my remarks from the June 8 Enterprise Mobility live event. In it, I provide an overview of the current FSSI Wireless program and discuss how an enterprise approach to mobility generates savings and better management.

View the video on YouTube.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITS to join the conversation.

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Regional Telecom Extensions Underway

Federal government agencies largely order their telecommunications through GSA’s Networx telecommunications program or through our Regional Local Service Agreements (LSAs) for local telecommunications.

As announced in March, we are extending the period of performance for the Network Universal and Enterprise contracts from 2017 to 2020.

We are currently working with our industry suppliers to extend the LSAs, including the Washington Interagency Telecommunications System (WITS) 3 contract in the metropolitan DC area.

In addition, we are working closely with our federal agency partners to begin rigorous transition planning and preparation. These extensions will allow agencies time to develop requirements and evaluate and implement solutions using the follow-on Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS) contract and/or other contracts in the GSA ITS portfolio.

As part of our overall NS2020 strategy, we will also be incorporating services currently available on our regional LSAs into EIS, eliminating the need for many duplicative contracts.  To bring these two programs together and minimize transition time, cost and risk, GSA will extend those LSAs expiring earlier than 2020 to coincide with the Networx contract extensions to 2020.

No Longer Pursuing RIS

GSA originally looked at a Regional Infrastructure Solutions (RIS) strategy to extend service for the expiring Regional LSAs by consolidating acquisitions and awarding interim contracts to provide service continuity until the competitive awards of EIS were made.

That approach would involve three larger geographic interim solutions: Northeast Infrastructure Solutions (NIS), Western Infrastructure Solutions (WIS), and Central Infrastructure Solutions (CIS).

However, in looking further at the approach, we found the schedules for the EIS and RIS procurements began to run parallel, and we questioned the purpose and cost effectiveness of separate RIS acquisitions. Industry partners and agencies were also concerned about RIS running in parallel with EIS and the additional acquisition investments the approach would have required.

GSA found eliminating the RIS acquisitions could achieve significant savings for industry and government and avoid unnecessary duplication and transitions.

Focusing on EIS

With our full focus now on EIS, we have a lot of information to share with you. And we’re also hoping you’ll continue to share your input with GSA as we work to finalize the EIS requirements.  To facilitate the sharing of information, we created the new EIS Interact Community and created a series of Information Exchange Days. Register now for the last Information Exchange Day on June 30.

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITS to hear more about EIS and to join GSA’s ITS’s overall acquisition conversations.

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Next Generation GWAC Programs

Our governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC) Program has been busy working on a number of updates and all of the hard work is starting to pay off. Each of our current GWACs has important milestones taking place:

  1. Alliant and Alliant Small Business announced draft Requests for Proposal (RFPs) for the sequel GWACs: Alliant 2 and Alliant 2 Small Business
  2. 8(a) STARS II notified stakeholders of open season and option initiatives
  3. VETS issued the initial Request for Information (RFI) for VETS 2

Federal agencies use GSA GWACs for a variety of IT services requirements including: data center consolidation, software development, systems integration, cloud computing, cybersecurity, and help desk support. Our GWACs have been prominent leaders in government and industry collaboration for many years, offering complimentary scope reviews, sample statements of work, acquisition templates and improved delegation of procurement authority (DPA) training.

Alliant 2 and Alliant 2 Small Business (A2/A2SB)

In looking to the next generation, our GWAC Program published the Alliant 2 and Alliant 2 Small Business (A2/A2SB) draft RFPs to FedBizOpps (FBO) on March 31st. These GWACs will be the sequels to the successful Alliant and Alliant Small Business (A/ASB) GWACs. The draft RFPs will be open for comments by industry and government on FBO for 90 days, so I highly encourage you to contribute.

A2/A2SB’s pre-solicitation phase has raised the bar in transparency and collaborative processes, involving both federal agencies and industry partners. The A2/A2SB team performed thorough market research and laid significant groundwork in the pre-planning phase with efforts including:

  • An A2/A2SB Interact group with more than 7,000 members
  • A publically reviewed business case on OMB MAX
  • Numerous presentations to interested agencies
  • A customer working group with 30 members from 11 agencies
  • An industry working group with more than 500 participants
  • Two RFIs through FBO
  • Two official industry days with more than 500 attendees
  • Face-to-face, one-on-one meetings between Industry and A2/A2SB staff with 350 registrants

Notable enhancements proposed in A2/A2SB include: scope improvements, new IT service labor categories, new cybersecurity standards, new environmental standards, and the inclusion of requirement contracting types.

8(a)STARS II Open Season and Option

As a result of the 8(a) STARS II GWAC’s success within the first four years of operation, our Small Business GWAC Division has begun planning for the future of the program. Activities began this Spring to enhance the contract and secure the ability to provide socioeconomic credit to federal agency users.

On May 19th, 2015, GSA’s Small Business GWAC Division issued an RFP for an open season for the 8(a) STARS II GWAC. The open season will allow additional firms to submit proposals to be evaluated for a contract award. GSA intends to add new awardees to the contract in late FY16 or early FY17.

In May, the SBGWAC Division also provided early notice to current 8(a) STARS II contract holders of the requirements for the August 2016 option period

This early notice allows stakeholders to make determinations about future activities:

  • Industry partners who will not receive an option can plan ahead for partnering opportunities on existing task orders
  • Government partners can determine the best course of action for tasks issued to firms who will not receive their option and
  • The Small Business GWAC Division can provide education and training to all stakeholders on next steps

Veterans Technology Services 2

Our Small Business GWAC Division posted on March 19th an RFI survey to FBO requesting feedback from the SDVOSB IT community for the VETS GWAC follow-on contract. The RFI remained open through April 4th and we will use feedback from the survey to develop VETS 2. Join the VETS 2 GWAC Community on GSA Interact to participate further in the conversation.

While our GWAC Division is planning ahead to ensure a bright future for this important vehicle, the ordering period for the current VETS GWAC isn’t set to expire until February 1, 2017 so there is plenty of runway on the existing contract.

To The Future

We couldn’t be more excited about the future of our GWAC Program. The relationships that we’ve built with our government and industry partners have been critical to the program’s success. The number of agency missions our GWACs have facilitated demonstrates GSA’s ongoing commitment to our government partners, the small business community and the American people. Our next generation of GWAC programs are a testament to that commitment.