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Better Pricing, Better Value, & Better Shopping Equals A Better Schedule 70

Since 1949, GSA’s mission has been to deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition, and technology to government and the American people. We pursue this mission relentlessly, and have always welcomed input from all stakeholders as we seek new and effective ways to bring more value to our federal customers. That’s why we appreciate the recommendations presented in a recent audit by GSA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). Conducted between 2011 through early 2016, this audit  found that some contracts on GSA’s IT Schedule 70 offered identical products at widely varying prices. And that some items were being offered at prices higher than commercial sales.  

We agree with these concerns, which is why we have been working for the past three years to fundamentally transform the Multiple Award Schedules (MAS) program, reduce prices, and streamline processes. I’m a consumer too. I’ll come back to a store when I know I’m getting the best deal — anything to avoid going from store to store comparing prices. And that’s exactly what IT Schedule 70 shoppers have told us they want, too. As FAS Commissioner Tom Sharpe laid out in his October 2015 blog, we’ve responded to our customers by working to meet that challenge. Over the past few years we’ve been adding new tools and innovations to IT Schedule 70 so that we can give our customers what they want: better pricing, better values and a better shopping experience.

We heard from procurement leaders across government that price variability on Schedules was a problem. In response, we spearheaded the Competitive Pricing Initiative (CPI), which looks at the current prices of identical products offered by suppliers through MAS and identifies opportunities for more competitive prices. Since it began in FY 2015, CPI has led to price reductions on roughly 1.4 million items across all of GSA’s 15 products Schedules –savings we passed directly to agencies.

Our customers told us it was difficult and time consuming to compare prices between different contractors. To fix this, we asked vendors to standardize part numbers and collected existing Universal Price Codes (UPCs). Now government buyers can more easily find and compare products and prices on Schedules.

To help small businesses that don’t have the resources to conduct extensive analyses, we added a Horizontal Pricing Analysis application to our e-toolbox. This market-research resource  provides MAS contracting officers (COs) with additional data to pass on to MAS suppliers so they can be as competitive as possible.

To help our COs navigate pricing in a rapidly moving IT market we implemented GSA Price Point (XSB), an automated tool that lets them compare products and evaluate prices of all existing and future GSA Advantage! product listings and contract price modifications.  

And we developed the Formatted Product Tool (FPT) to help our MAS contractors and COs negotiate competitive prices for products on Schedule. FPT automates price comparisons for identical items, removes burdensome processes for both vendors and federal buyers, and improves our customers’ GSA Advantage! experience.

All these tools and capabilities help government contracting professionals negotiate prices that are in line and competitive with government and commercial marketplace prices. They also provide transparency and better value to both the government and Industry. Central to GSA’s mission is that we deliver value to the federal government and the American people. While IT Schedule 70 is not perfect, we recognize the challenges we’re facing and have have taken concrete steps to make pricing more competitive and to provide the tools to help buyers make smart purchasing decisions.

However, we are aware that we must continue to address the very issues identified by the IG and continue to transform the MAS program, reducing prices and streamlining processes.

Since that study began in 2011, we have fundamentally changed the way we do business with industry and how our contracting officers work. We have made significant improvements as we tackle pricing issues across the Schedules program. At the same time, we have also cut the time it takes to award contracts, determined a new path for startups to get on Schedule faster, and strengthened our focus on compliance.  With the new Transactional Data Reporting pilot we’ll start to collect and share more information on what the government buys and how much we pay for products and services. After looking at all the changes we have implemented, and looking forward to the improvements we’ll be making down the road, I am more confident and proud than ever that IT Schedule 70 will continue to provide the very best value to all of our important stakeholders.

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GSA Continues to Develop Health IT Service Offerings

As stated in the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan, federal agencies are purchasers, regulators, developers, and users of health IT. In their various roles, they set policy and insure, pay for care, or provide direct patient care for tens of millions of Americans. Over the past seven years, our nation’s health information technology (health IT) landscape has experienced a remarkable transformation.  

With an annual growth rate of 7.4%, Health IT Services is one of the fastest growing markets in both the government and private sector.  Therefore, it is not a surprise that GSA’s IT Schedule 70 is seeing increased attention and interest in its Health IT Services solutions.  So, to ensure that IT Schedule 70 stays at the forefront of the Health IT market and to make it even easier for our government partners to get access to new and emerging health IT services, I’m pleased to announce the release of the new Health IT Services Special Item Number (SIN 132-56).  

GSA’s growing subject-matter expertise in the Health IT market, coupled with our existing online procurement tools, will allow us to provide a best-in-class solution for Health IT market research, acquisition planning, and procurement.

What are Health IT Services?

Health information technology (Health IT) makes it possible for health care providers to manage patient care through the secure sharing of health information. A simple example of Health IT is having an electronic health record (EHRs) instead of your medical history and health information on many pieces of paper stuck in a manilla folder.

Other products and services that fall under Health IT include mobile and tele-health technology, ePrescribing, medical sensors, remote monitoring devices, and other assistive technologies.  Health IT allows individuals and healthcare providers from federal, public health and community-based support organizations to electronically collect, share, and use health information.

Given the wide range of activities, and agencies’ desire for Health IT accessibility, the government is in an optimal position to improve healthcare and reduce costs through the secure use of information technology–making Health IT a valuable and strategic market for GSA.

Goals of the Health IT SIN

The Health IT SIN simplifies the procurement process, making it easier for IT Schedule 70 customers to get access to new and emerging health IT services. At the same time, it fosters competition and promotes small business participation. The new Health IT SIN gives industry partners a way to distinguish their Health IT services offerings from other IT related services already under the IT Schedule 70 program, letting them stand out to agencies seeking Health IT services.  It will also allows agencies to more easily identify Health IT solutions and the experts within the healthcare market.  

The Health IT SIN also supports the Federal Health IT Strategic Plan to expand adoption of Health IT services, reduce prices, advance secure and interoperable health information solutions, and strengthen healthcare delivery systems.

Health IT SIN Development and Collaboration

The new Health IT SIN is the result of collaboration between federal agencies and industry partners.  IT Schedule 70 worked closely with the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Defense Health Agency (DHA) to ensure the Health IT SIN is a valuable resource to federal, state, local and tribal governments. We co-hosted industry days and agency meetings, and issued multiple RFIs to ensure we captured comments from both customer and industry partners.  Since the beginning of the Health IT SIN development process, VHA has referred vendors to IT Schedule 70 for possible inclusion under the Health IT SIN.  Additionally, DHA has entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with GSA as DHA’s singular Health IT procurement solution.  

This collaboration creates a win-win for both agencies and industry. Our customer agencies stay involved as active participants by using the Health IT SIN, while our industry partners are committed to providing innovative Health IT Services to government users.

Participation is Easy

Current IT Schedule 70 contract holders must submit a modification to their contract through GSA’s eOffer/eMod web page. Industry partners not yet on Schedule 70 must submit an offer. Please follow the steps outlined in our convenient online guide.

Both new and existing industry partners may be eligible for our FASt Lane program, which gives suppliers shorter processing times for IT Schedule 70 contract actions.  Contact FAStLane@gsa.gov for assistance and visit the IT Schedule 70 Interact page to download detailed instructions and a pricing proposal template.

Also, I encourage agencies visit the IT Schedule 70 Health IT SIN web page for more information on how to use the SIN to purchase Health IT services.

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

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Focusing on the EIS Customer Experience

Note: This is a guest blog post by Amando E. Gavino Jr., Director, Office of Network Services, ITS/FAS/GSA. He is responsible for a portfolio of acquisition vehicles that provide government agencies with a diverse set of telecommunications solutions, including Networx, Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS), SATCOM, Enterprise Mobility, Connections II, and the Federal Relay Service.

On June 22, the General Services Administration (GSA) joined more than 200 representatives from across government and industry for a dynamic, customer-centric discussion about next-generation telecommunications under the Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS), a comprehensive solution-based vehicle to address all aspects of federal agency information technology telecommunications, and infrastructure requirements.

EIS will provide mission-critical telecommunications infrastructure to the federal government for the next 15 years. It replaces the Networx, Washington Interagency Telecommunications System (WITS) 3, and GSA Regional telecommunications services contracts that expire in May 2020.

This event allowed us to hear from agency officials on a wide range of topics, including:   

  • What they need from EIS
  • How important it is for each agency to find opportunities when transitioning telecom services under current contracts to EIS
  • How they will meet the aggressive transition challenges

I’d like to take this opportunity to share more of the valuable feedback we received during the event. The customer-focused themes and advice give EIS stakeholders across government and industry more insight as we collectively move to EIS.

Top Customer Takeaways

  1. Every federal agency is affected – more than 150 agencies and 60 Tribal organizations
  2. Agencies need to have a sense of urgency, focusing continuously on preparing for their complete transition until finished
  3. The EIS program holds opportunities for agencies, including modernizing, securing and transforming agency infrastructure. Think transformation as a key goal, rather than simply transition to the new acquisition vehicle.  This means approaching EIS transition as an opportunity to transform agency telecom operations and add mission value.
  4. Top priorities for agencies include:
  • Complete transition before the current contracts expire in 2020
  • Increase bandwidth demands
  • Meet agency cybersecurity requirements (cyber is built into EIS)
  • Focus on network modernization
  • See both short and long-term cost savings
  • Pay only for what the agency uses
  • Improve performance at lower cost

  5. Agencies are driving demand, not the EIS acquisition vehicle

  • For example, due to local area networks increasingly connected to wide-area telecommunications networks over Ethernet interfaces (that time-division multiplexing interfaces were challenged to provide), demand drove Ethernet transport to be a mandatory service

  6. To have a successful transition, each agency needs an accurate inventory and strong senior leadership commitment

  • Inventory includes everything from traditional long distance to fully redundant, mission-critical, secure VPNs
  • More than seven million inventory items across 90 regional and eight Networx contracts must move

  7. Engage with GSA early, get the agency contracting officer on board early, and put agency governance in place

  8. Agency Transition Plans are due to GSA in October 2016

  9. Download a free copy of GSA’s just-released EIS Transition Handbook from the GSA Interact site

Industry Takeaways

  1. Industry needs to prepare for the anticipated tsunami of EIS task order requests;  Partners, teams, and processes have to be ready to go
  2. Agencies will be looking for high-quality proposals for task and service orders
  3. EIS wants to deliver tomorrow’s technology today and GSA encourages industry to work with government on ways to make that happen

Common Threads for Everyone

  1. EIS is designed as a flexible and dynamic acquisition vehicle that will require continued collaboration with GSA, government, and industry going forward
  2. All current federal government telecom inventory must be moved to EIS before the end of May 2020 – 47 months from now
  3. EIS will address changing technology needs throughout the life of the acquisition vehicle
  4. The EIS acquisition vehicle is expected to extend into 2031 with continuous technology refresh
  5. Year 2020 is just around the corner. Even though we’re in the midst of the EIS acquisition, we are also planning further into the future. We are updating the NS2020 strategy, which will become the NS2025 strategy

GSA looks forward to continuing this EIS transition customer-centric dialog with our industry and government colleagues. We will continue the conversation on this blog and our GSA EIS Interact community. If you need assistance with agency transition, reach out to us at the IT Customer Service Center at 855-482-4348 or ITCSC@gsa.gov.  And again, please download a free copy of GSA’s just-released EIS Transition Handbook from the GSA Interact site.

Thanks to @ACTIAC and @ITAlliancePS  for supporting our June 22nd transition conversation.  The event was hosted by the ACT-IAC Networks and Telecommunications (N&T) Community of Interest (COI),Information Technology Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS), and other industry groups.

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

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ITS Builds Partnerships Improve Health IT

In February 2016, we started a strategic seven-year partnership with the Defense Health Agency (DHA) that represents an estimated $5.4 billion in spend for critical Health IT services and solutions (GSA-DHA Health IT Partnership, 2/4/2016. In just a few short months, it’s already succeeded and proven a model of how we can work across federal agencies to foster collaborative, integrated partnerships to create innovative IT solutions for various mission areas, such as healthcare.

I’m proud to recognize three GSA employees and their DHA counterparts who were recently nominated for the 2016 AFFIRM Leadership Award for their leadership in developing the DHA/GSA Health IT Partnership. The DHA/GSA Health IT Partnership will be recognized and honored at the 2016 AFFIRM Annual Leadership Celebration, Thursday, June 23, 2016.

We continuously strive to grow customer relationships and serve as a trusted advisor to help federal agencies make smarter, more strategic decisions. We work across agencies to foster collaborative, integrated partnerships to not only improve IT acquisition and procurement for our government customers, but also to leverage current IT services and solutions to meet their unique mission and operational requirements.

Jennifer Auble, a customer engagement manager; Larry Hale, director, IT category customer engagement division; and Michael Williams, national account manager with GSA’s Customer Accounts and Research, along with their DHA partners, have worked hard through many political and organizational barriers facing government procurement to achieve a groundbreaking partnership between GSA and DHA that is in the best interests of the federal government and the American taxpayer.

This partnership began when GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS) and DHA entered into a strategic seven-year partnership representing an estimated $5.4 billion in spend for critical health IT services and solutions. Through this partnership, DHA will direct new health IT procurements to GSA IT contracts, including IT Schedule 70 and the Alliant, Alliant Small Business, 8(a) Streamlined Technology Acquisition Resources for Services II (STARS II), and Veterans Technology Services Governmentwide Acquisition Contract (VETS GWAC).

DHA uses these vehicles as the primary means of procuring supplies and services to support their existing and emerging health IT requirements. In addition, DHA has entered into partnership with GSA’s One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services (OASIS) program and with the Assisted Acquisition Services organization.

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