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Defense Health Agency Awards Health IT SIN’s First Major Contract

The first major award using the new Health IT Services Special Item Number (SIN) 132-56 on IT Schedule 70 has been made by the Defense Health Agency (DHA). A $15.6 million task order was awarded for the U.S Army Solution Delivery Division for an Enterprise Blood Management System (EBMS). This award will help effectively manage and track blood donor registration, screening, blood products, and associated record keeping for military and civilian blood donors.

In a previous blog, I explained that Health IT Services is experiencing an annual growth rate of 7.4 percent, which makes the health IT market one of the faster-growing technology sectors in both government and private sector (projected to reach $31.3 billion in 2017).

As the market continues to grow in size and complexity, agencies look to Schedule 70 for help. Still in its first year, the Health IT Services SIN is expanding its capabilities to ensure it incorporates agency requirements and industry capabilities. The SIN now has over 170 industry partners, providing access to a comprehensive array of health IT services including electronic health records, health analytics, and a wide range of other innovative health IT solutions.

Training Webinar

On June 13, 2017, the Health IT SIN team will hold a training webinar for government agencies for ordering from the SIN. The discussion will cover the Health IT SIN’s purpose, its benefits to government customers, and ways to use the SIN to meet customers’ health IT requirements.

Visit our Schedules news and training page for registration instructions and other information about the webinar.

Advantages

On July 8, 2016, GSA launched the Health IT Services SIN 132-56, available to federal, state, local, and tribal governments. Created with agencies and industry, the resulting solution provides centralized, direct access to a distinct set of health IT services.

The new Health IT SIN gives industry partners a way to differentiate their solutions from other IT-related services under the IT Schedule 70 Program, allowing them to stand out to agencies. This lets agencies more easily see what health IT services are available and how to get them.

Using Schedule 70 for our Health IT solution allows GSA to keep up with the evolving marketplace by continuously adding new and innovative companies and services. This includes access to a strong and diverse small business landscape.

Additionally, agencies continue to receive the benefits that Schedule 70 offers: ease of access through GSA systems for market research and acquisition planning, and a simplified procurement process that reduces costs.

Increased Use

Agencies are increasingly using the Health IT SIN for Requests For Information (RFIs) or Requests For Quotations (RFQs) for market research purposes: to help clarify and refine their requirements, to gauge vendor interest, and to procure health IT services.

At this time, 27 RFQs/RFIs have been posted under the Health IT SIN.

Other agencies are also actively using the Health IT SIN, besides the Department of Defense:

Department of Health and Human Services:

  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
  • Environmental Health Tracking Branch
  • National Center for Environmental Health
  • U.S. Food & Drug Administration

Department of Justice:

  • Bureau of Prisons

Department of State:

  • Bureau of Medical Services

Department of Veteran Affairs:

  • National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • VA Medical Centers
  • Veterans Benefits Administration
  • Veterans Health Administration

Interested?

Are you interested in joining the ranks of those currently using the Health IT SIN? Get started by reaching out to us at healthit-sin@gsa.gov.

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My Q & A with the IT Industry – What’s Working and What Could be Improved in Federal Acquisition

(Byline: Mary Davie, Government-wide IT Category Manager)

I recently met with more than 50 representatives from the top IT services companies and talked about the good and the bad in federal acquisition. Some of the discussion was surprising … some not so much. The key takeaways include some changes that are fairly simple for government to implement, yet have big impacts.

1. Government acquisition and program personnel need to be more accessible and increase communications regarding requirements and procurement timelines. Industry told me government program/acquisition personnel rarely respond to requests to discuss programs, requirements, and agency priorities in order to develop proposals and solutions or offer alternatives.

GSA’s Information Technology Category has made extensive use of RFIs, draft RFPs, industry days, one-on-one meetings (over 100 individual meetings on Alliant 2 and EIS) and collaborative platforms such as interact.gsa.gov for collaboration and input. I’ve heard many times from government reps that they don’t have time or don’t know how to handle sharing with multiple companies since sharing has to be handled equitably.

I’m here to tell you we have to find time to meet with industry. There are many ways to share information equitably. GSA spends an extensive amount of time communicating and collaborating to develop all of our governmentwide contracts to ensure we get as much input and feedback as possible. The governmentwide IT category and sub-category teams (Mobile, Software, and Laptop/Desktop) are also spending lots of time conducting industry days, participating in technology demonstrations, and meeting individually with companies. And the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP) encourages federal program and acquisition representatives to interact with industry as much as possible – they’ve issued three Mythbusting memos on the subject.

So my advice is to establish relationships and regular forums for communication with your industry partners and potential partners. The Alliant PMR and shared interest groups that have formed under the contract were called out as a best practice, and, unfortunately, are rare practice for government contracts.

Agencies should seize the opportunity inherent in active program management to help make the contract successful. GSA’s Alliant program and contracting staff are in constant communication with the industry – they share contract data, potential agency opportunities on the contract, outreach and training to agency customers, account management and agency buying trends; meet many client-facing GSA representatives; and provide a place for industry to resolve issues and challenges in a trusted environment.

Without spending time upfront to talk about what we need with industry, we aren’t going to get good competition or the innovative solutions we are looking for. I think open communications often comes from a feeling of safety and having top cover, and our government leaders need to provide that encouragement to our workforce.

2. e-Tools and Repository of Solicitations. Many agencies do an excellent job of using one system to post opportunities and retain statements of work and proposals in an historical repository. This is a great practice that reduces cost and provides clarity to industry about past requirements and incumbent contractors – things that are important to them as part of their bid/no-bid decision process. One participant said this about the Navy’s SeaPort-e system:

“You can see a changing dynamic in a scope of work and what solutions a customer is looking for. That transparency is robust enough to do a real analysis to understand that customer even better.”

That’s what we strive to do for the governmentwide category management efforts: share data and information, conduct more robust market research, and provide a platform like the Acquisition Gateway so agencies and industry have one place to go to find information pertinent to all agencies and across categories.

3. Statements of Work vs. Statements of Objectives. Government, in general, is still prescribing the HOW we want work to get done and what kind of people we want on the job (i.e., prescribing labor categories), rather than describing what we need and what the outcome should be.

Industry reported that they still see voluminous, prescriptive RFPs instead of simpler statements of objectives. When government uses the prescriptive RFP, it makes it harder for industry to offer innovative solutions – yet the government regularly says that’s what it wants. We need to train our folks to write statements of objectives and then how to manage contracts for outcomes and performance. It’s harder to do, but it’s where we need to be.

The industry unanimously agreed that GSA’s FEDSIM does a great job of this. FEDSIM conducts IT and professional services procurements on behalf of other agencies using a true Integrated Project Team approach. They bring in program, technical, acquisition, and legal staff to work with customer agency staff on requirements development and drafting the solicitation. In addition, FEDSIM uses standard acquisition processes and templates, and works very closely with industry to provide opportunity pipeline information and conduct market research during presolicitation (Check out their new website and you’ll see what I mean.). They write in clear performance-based terms and employ trained project managers and CORs to manage the projects after award.

Industry also pointed out that the way government structures smaller requirements often requires the same level of effort from industry to bid. So the tendency is for industry not to bid those requirements and instead spend their time bidding larger opportunities. This results in reduced competition and fewer innovative solutions for government on the smaller requirements.

4. STOP issuing Requests for Information asking for corporate capabilities! If an agency is going to use an existing contract, there is no need for capabilities RFIs. Agencies should be focused instead on asking for a few key pieces of information regarding the requirements themselves. Industry spends lots of time and money responding to general RFIs and then rarely ever get any information or response back from the government. This should be part of the market research and pre-solicitation process.

Another bad, costly, and confusing practice is for government to issue the same RFI against multiple contracts. Industry feels compelled to respond to all of them because of the uncertainty of where the requirement might end up. Unfortunately, this is a very costly and time-consuming practice.

With the Acquisition Gateway, agencies now have a single place they can find government-wide and agency-specific contracts for specific categories of spend. This should really help eliminate those general RFIs.

Using a tool like Interact provides a great way to share information online and let government and industry respond and ask questions – everyone has equal access. But government should still make time for those in-person discussions.

5. Things that drive up cost – Schedule slips and procurement delays. Industry budgets a certain amount of money each year for bid and proposal costs. As government delays the process, it extends the time industry must spend to pursue the work. It also comes with opportunity costs for not being able to bid on other work. This isn’t helpful if we want highly qualified partners who can bring us innovative solutions.

Requiring industry to provide references and agencies to fill out questionnaires on past performance. Industry questioned the value of government requiring past performance information as part of the evaluation process in the manner it typically uses. We all agree that both experience and past performance are critical factors. For the governmentwide contracts, the value is to offer qualified companies with strong program management and technical capabilities, so experience and past performance are both critical parts of the qualification process.

Systems like Contractor Performance Assessment Reporting System (CPARS) and Past Performance Information Retrieval System (PPIRS) can be used for at least part of what the government needs in the evaluation process, but another alternative offered was reciprocity across government in sharing contract Quality Assurance Surveillance Plans.

Industry estimated that the process used by the OASIS and Alliant 2 teams (a combination of FPDS-NG reports, CPARS/PPIRS reports, and past performance surveys only if a CPARS/PPIRS report was not available) saved between 40-70% in offeror bid and proposal costs.

Guessing at the cost of the requirement. Industry shared that a best practice is to publish the range of estimated costs the government thinks (and is willing to spend) to do the job directly in the solicitation. Part of the rationale for this is that the government isn’t writing clear requirements and isn’t sharing enough information for industry to be able to “guess” what the government is asking. Another reason this makes sense is that the amount that the government is spending is already public. Rather than falling into the “Price to Win” trap, leveling the playing field allows the government to select what is truly the best value .

GSA’s FEDSIM organization has used this practice successfully for years (I did it when I worked at FEDSIM 20 years ago). When the range is provided, industry can determine the kind of solution they can bid for what the government can spend.

6. Protests. As you might imagine, this topic brought lots of energetic discussion. Wrapped up in the topic are industry-government communications, risk, quality, and company strategy.

Industry suggested that government should improve relationships and communication. This includes sharing more information and being accessible in the pre-solicitation phase, writing clearer requirements, and allowing for in-person debriefs. As a result of these activities protests may decrease.

Our government representatives didn’t quite buy it. They pointed to cases in which those things were taking place and yet we still received protests. There was clear agreement from both government and industry that protests are often used as a strategy by an incumbent company to buy more time and income.

The group then discussed using something like a protest bond or fee that a company would have to pay if they lost a protest, hoping to encourage only protests that were charging substantive deficiencies or issues.

I don’t think much of what came up in our discussion was a surprise to anyone; however, I truly appreciated industry’s candor and how they gave us an opportunity to share and learn from this feedback. Both government and industry have responsibilities in federal acquisition,both parties can make improvements. Small changes can have big impact.

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IT Services: Driving Mission Delivery of IT Capabilities, Customer Engagement

(Note: This is a guest blog post by Casey Kelley, acting director for the Office of IT Services within ITC, General Services Administration’s (GSA) Federal Acquisition Service (FAS). As the acting director, Kelley is responsible for a $14+ billion portfolio of contracts that provide federal, state, local, and tribal government agencies with a diverse set of information technology solutions.)

The FAS IT Services portfolio team played a significant role in driving mission delivery of IT capabilities across government during fiscal year (FY) 2016. By providing expertise and procurement support through customer engagement, governmentwide contract vehicles and Best-in-Class (BIC) acquisition solutions, GSA helped government agencies acquire innovative technologies, reduce duplicative enterprise contracts, and improve internal efficiencies.

Customer Engagement is Key to Success

The IT Services team considers customer engagement the key to success, working across government with our agency partners to:

  • Share best practices and ideas
  • Drive IT innovation to help support mission requirements
  • Resolve governmentwide IT challenges (i.e., systems integration through data center optimization)
  • Improve acquisition solutions and availability of data and information

We measure our success directly on agencies’ ability to acquire the best IT solutions and services at competitive pricing to meet mission requirements. Customer and industry feedback is an important tool.  Listening allows us to understand strategic and tactical requirements and offer the right solution. So, whether it’s an IT Schedule 70 solution, a GWAC, or another IT contract or program, we will have the right solution for agencies looking to acquire anything IT.

IT Schedule 70

IT Schedule 70 offers more than 7.5 million products, services, and solutions from more than 4,600 contract holders. We constantly scan the market to ensure we are adding new products and services, adding new innovative companies, and working with federal, state, local and tribal agencies to meet specific needs and demands.

Agencies that choose IT Schedule 70 can boost their return on investment by maximizing their budgets and reducing procurement lead times by up to 50% over open market purchases. Further, in the past two fiscal years, IT Schedule 70 has experienced increased usage by agencies—$14.8 billion in FY 2015 and $15.1 billion in FY 2016 with about half of those purchases were for IT services. And these figures also include state and local government utilization of IT Schedule 70.

GWACs

Because they deliver a broad range of comprehensive, flexible, easy to use, and innovative solutions, government agencies continue to use GWACs for small through very large, complex requirements. Spending for FY 2016 on GSA GWACs was $6.2 billion:

  • 8(a) STARS II – $1.4 billion
  • VETS – $126 million
  • Alliant – $3.4 billion
  • Alliant Small Business – $1.3 billion

Looking Forward: Best-in-Class

For FY 2017, the IT Services team is pursuing Best in Class (BIC) designation for the Alliant GWAC. Best-in-Class is a contracting and acquisition classification used across government to denote contracts that meet rigorous category management performance criteria as defined by the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and approved by the Category Management Leadership Council. A BIC designation recognizes these contracts as ‘good-for-government’ purchasing solutions that should be used by all agencies. BIC solutions are designed to meet specific criteria that helps maximize IT value for government agencies. BIC qualities include:

  • Developing contract solutions in partnership with agency customers
  • Applying Category Management principles
  • Maintaining consistent and constant collaboration with government agencies and industry partners
  • Using transactional data to improve product offerings
  • Demonstrating a commitment to small business
  • Using Processes to monitor, improve and report pricing and buying patterns to help agencies make more informed decisions

Over the Horizon

Special Item Number (SINs)

Moving forward, the IT Services team will be focusing their efforts on two of the newer IT Schedule 70 SINs:

  • Health IT SIN (132-56) – includes various Health IT services (e.g., connected health, electronic health records, health information exchanges, Health analytics, Personal health information management, etc.)
  • Cloud SIN (132-40) – includes all cloud services that brings potential efficiency improvements and savings to agencies

The IT Services team will work closely with agencies to ensure the new SINs are meeting government’s needs and to provide training and consulting. They will also continue working with industry to bring more companies into the Schedule 70 program and under the SINs.

The team will also concentrate on the GSA IT Schedule 70 Professional Services SIN (132-51), which is the largest Schedule 70 SIN in terms of dollars. Exploring and applying some of the successful industry-customer collaboration best practices used by the GSA Alliant GWAC program will also help us understand how to leverage the new SINs to their full potential.

Open Market Spend

The IT Services team is also working on developing an “open market spend” model for a repeatable process that accurately identifies task orders originally awarded through open market buys.

Alliant and VETS Next Generation GWACs

Finally, the next generation GSA GWACs (Alliant 2, Alliant 2 Small Business GWACs, and VETS 2) are all expected to be awarded and operational in FY18. Once they are in place, the team will begin performing a broad outreach effort to educate and train customers on these latest offerings.

About IT Services

GSA’s IT Services Subcategory, composed of IT Consulting and IT Outsourcing services, is responsible for a portfolio of contracts and programs providing government agencies with a diverse set of IT solutions. To learn more, please visit our IT Consulting and IT Outsourcing Hallways on the Acquisition Gateway.

Also, follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.

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IT Hardware: Delivering Cost Savings through Desktops & Laptops

This blog post is part of a seven-part series reviewing the Acquisition Gateway and IT Category data, trends, expertise, and advocacy that GSA’s ITC organization offers to support other agencies’ missions.

(Note: This is a guest blog post by Paul Morris, IT Hardware Subcategory Manager for ITC in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS). He oversees the management of GSA’s IT Hardware solutions, Client and Supply Management, and Market Analysis, and publishes relevant content within the IT Hardware’s Category Hallway in GSA’s Acquisition Gateway.)

During Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, GSA implemented and delivered contract vehicles and easy-to-use solutions that resulted in significant savings for government agencies. One major initiative that is already leveraging the federal government’s buying power, collaborating with other federal agencies and industry, and creating acquisition efficiency is the Government-wide Strategic Solutions (GSS) for Desktops and Laptops program.

The GSS program is co-led by HHS/NIH, NASA, and GSA with heavy involvement from the Army CHESS program.  GSA’s IT Schedule 70 contractors offer the GSS standard configurations for desktop and laptop computers that provide government agencies lower pricing, standard terms and conditions, access to spend and pricing data, and best- in-class solutions. These standard configurations were developed by the GSS team after evaluating governmentwide spend data for laptops and desktops, and working with more than 20 agencies to understand what was being purchased and what the agencies’ needs were.

GSS for Desktops & Laptops Sees Growth

Current spend indicates that desktops and laptops account for approximately 10 percent of the total $12 billion in annual government IT hardware. When GSA’s GSS Desktop and Laptop program first launched in October 2015, we were encouraged by the initial success. Based on FY 2017 end-of-first quarter data, we are seeing purchasing increase through the GSS Desktop and Laptop IT Schedule 70 program, as well as across NIH’s Chief Information Officer-IT Commodities and Solutions (NIH CIO-CS) governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC), and NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (NASA SEWP).

Moreover, across GSA’s IT Schedule 70, NIH’s CIO-CS GWAC, and NASA’s SEWP, we have seen an increase in usage to date, when compared to the same period during FY 2016 (an increase from $270,000 to nearly $5 million in GSS purchases alone). We expect strong growth throughout the remaining three quarters in FY 2017, well over 2016’s approximate spend of $16 million.

Likewise, in the previous fourth quarter of FY 2016, GSA and NASA government-wide buying events resulted in discounts of 15 percent to 23 percent from standard contract pricing (depending on the GSS system purchased), an average savings of 19 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was one agency that benefitted from the government-wide buying event. Since we provided the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum with cost estimates of need upfront, they were able to procure an additional 55 computers because of the savings.

Looking Ahead in IT Hardware

We are taking lessons learned and making continual improvements to our hardware offering.  We are working with the GSS team and will be upgrading the standard configurations, exploring options for expanding the offerings, and planning our FY17 buying event.

Here’s a look ahead for the IT Hardware Subcategory:

  • We’re improving GSA eTools — This year, all GSS Desktops and Laptops in GSA Advantage!® will be easy to find and will have a consistent look and feel for configuration and pricing information.
  • We’re incorporating FY 2016 lessons learned into our planning for FY 2017 GSS Buying Events — We are changing the equipment configuration and features, and communicating early that we intend to host a fourth quarter GSS buying event.
  • We’re supporting the IT Security Subcategory’s Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) Provenance pilot — By improving existing SCRM into our solutions, we can reduce agency risk and increase buyer confidence. We’ll work with our customers and vendors to assess the use of SCRM controls in the desktop and laptop purchase experience.

We are excited about the solutions in place under GSS Desktops and Laptops, and the potential to save federal agencies time and money.

To learn more about the IT Hardware Category program, contracts, hardware configurations, or to share your thoughts on the program, reach out to the GSA IT Hardware Subcategory Manager, or browse the Acquisition Gateway’s IT Hardware Subcategory Hallway.

We also offer several ways to purchase IT hardware:

Please follow us on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT.