FAS Commercial Platforms Initiative

Posted by Laura Stanton
on March 10, 2022

I’ve had the pleasure of being involved with the Commercial Platforms marketplace initiative since its inception. To make it easier for federal agencies make routine commercial product purchases, we partnered with multiple online platforms to modernize the buying experience. Through these partnerships we have made significant progress, and I’m excited to share more details on where the program is headed.

Program update

The Commercial Platforms program launched in August 2020 with four initial agencies and approximately 350 cardholders who could log in and purchase from any of our three participating platforms. I’m happy to report that agency interest is very strong, and the program has grown to over 20 participating agencies and over 40,000 total eligible cardholders.

The Commercial Platforms team actively works with the platforms to identify ways to support administration priorities in the areas of:

  • Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM), 
  • Green Products, 
  • Small Business, 
  • Made in America, and 
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility.

There is a continued emphasis on customer experience and direct feedback from buyers and program managers to better understand how the program can improve. Check out the new Commercial Platforms infographic for more FY21 highlights. 

Leadership changes

I’m pleased to share that GSA’s Northeast and Caribbean Regional Commissioner Jeff Lau is the new Executive Sponsor of the Commercial Platforms program. I will continue to provide guidance and support in a consultative role, but Jeff will manage the team and help shape the future of the program. 

Jeff recently shared that he sees “a great deal of potential and opportunity within this program to modernize and streamline routine commercial buying. I am excited about growing the program and broadening the number of platforms participating in future contracts. This will be a significant focus area as part of my leadership.”

Future contracts

Work is now underway on the next acquisition for the Commercial Platforms program, with existing contracts in place until June 2023. The team released a Request for Information (RFI) that asks for feedback from industry stakeholders on requirements and capabilities to support future program contracts.

As the market and our understanding of the e-commerce landscape evolves, buyer feedback will continue to play a significant role. The buyer’s experience is emerging as the top priority area, and we will keep learning from industry’s insights, feedback, and commercial practices.

To access the RFI, please visit and subscribe to the GSA Interact Commercial Platforms group. Visit www.gsa.gov/commercialplatforms for the latest on the Commercial Platforms program.

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Improving Acquisition Governmentwide: IT and Professional Services

Posted by Laura Stanton
on February 17, 2022

It’s not often that you hear from both the Information Technology Category and Professional Services and Human Capital Categories on this blog, but we’re excited to share some updates about how our portfolios are collaborating to improve governmentwide services acquisition. For this post we’re joined by Sheri Meadema, acting assistant commissioner of GSA’s Office of Professional Services and Human Capital Categories.

ITC and PSHC have always focused on developing and delivering contractual approaches that meet the expressed, current, and future needs of our customer agencies. We set up flexible solutions so industry has a low-friction experience when working with the government. Our job is to help our customers by: 

  • Reaching the most qualified and experienced suppliers in various socioeconomic categories. 
  • Accessing an acquisition channel that is designed to deliver exactly what agencies need and how they need to buy it.
  • Complying with evolving federal regulations.
  • Reducing the complexity and risk associated with services acquisition to the maximum extent possible.

What’s new

This year we are taking our partnership a step further through a new focus area called the Services Marketplace. ITC and PSHC are working together to align how we roll out new contracts and tools to support buyers and suppliers of services. 

Along with the leaders of GSA’s services contracts, we are working together to find enterprise-level solutions. We have three primary goals:

  • Rationalize, align and expand GSA’s contract offerings.
  • Improve FAS’s market research and buying tools. 
  • Improve the data and reporting systems used in support of our acquisition programs

What will this look like for our customers and industry partners? For industry, we envision a future with standardized engagement and solicitation processes regardless of the type of services you’re providing. We will focus on using a consistent set of best practices and tools when possible for both IT and professional services for solicitations, evaluation, negotiations, award, and contract management.

For our customers, we want to deliver a consistent, exceptional customer experience that makes it easier to get successful outcomes when compared to open market procurements. A customer agency buying services from GSA should be able to access familiar processes and have access to the right industry base, best-in-class contracts, effective and efficient tools, and support resources.

What we’re working on

Under the umbrella of the Services Marketplace, we are building the next generation of contracts, including the Services MAC, Polaris, and the follow-on to Alliant 2. 

  • ITC recently awarded the 8(a) STARS III Governmentwide Acquisition Contract, a small business set-aside, Best-in-Class GWAC. Through 8(a) STARS III, agencies can access award-winning 8(a) firms for emerging technologies and Outside Continental United States support via an established contract vehicle, saving time and taxpayer money over open-market methods.
  • Development of the next generation small business IT GWAC Polaris is well underway. The request for proposal for the new Polaris small business IT contract is expected in February 2022. Once fully awarded, Polaris will complete GSA’s GWAC contract portfolio by enabling federal agencies to set-aside IT task orders to small business, women-owned small business, service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses, and businesses located in HUBZones. 
  • With the OASIS ordering period ending in 2024, PSHC is making significant progress on a new Services Multi-Agency Contract to support federal agencies’ procurement requirements for services, making essential improvements and building on the program’s success. 
  • Work also continues on improving our Multiple Award Schedule service offerings in Phase 3 of the consolidation. Contractors with multiple contracts will consolidate down to one, which translates into fewer overall contracts for the acquisition workforce — and industry partners — to manage. It will also make it easier for agencies to find the vendors to meet their mission requirements.

We’ve also started standardizing the scope review process and created a digital tool/portal so customers can submit their scope review requests. This will allow for better tracking, management, and coordination across portfolios, as well as create a single customer experience. PSHC has already created a pilot single intake form and we are working to integrate that across other portfolios. 

In the coming months, we’ll launch a single Delegation of Procurement Authority training for OASIS and Human Capital and Training Solutions and a single on-demand ITC DPA, which combines 8(a) STARS III, VETS 2, and Alliant 2 to simplify the customer experience. We’ve also started the discovery phase for an order management tool for all services task orders. This will allow for better solicitation development, tracking, and task order management on GSA contracts. 

We look forward to continued input from customers and industry partners to create consistency as we build the next generation of contracts, improve market research and buying tools, and enhance data and reports systems for governmentwide services acquisition.

Contact us

If you’re interested in learning more about any of our contracts, send us a note!

Join the Small Business GWAC Community of Interest here to follow 8(a) STARS III and Polaris updates: https://interact.gsa.gov/group/small-business-gwac-community-interest.

Join the Professional Services Community here to follow news on the Services MAC: https://interact.gsa.gov/groups/professionalservicescategory.

Follow ITC on Twitter and LinkedIn, and subscribe for blog updates.

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FAST 2021: Incorporating IT Security into Acquisitions

Posted by Laura Stanton
on May 6, 2021

Join us May 13th at 1:00 pm EDT for a live webinar led by GSA’s IT Acquisition experts as we explore:

  • Benefits in shifting from a compliance model to the cybersecurity maturity model
  • Adopting a supply chain risk evaluation approach in government contracting
  • Easy to understand acquisition planning packages (e.g., playbooks, checklists, templates)

The 3-hour session features an overview of requirements and evaluation factors used in developing the 2nd Generation Information Technology (2GIT) blanket purchase agreement; and a quick look into the GSA’s IT Solutions Navigator connecting buyers with resources, tools, and decision support for IT procurements.

This is the third session in GSA’s 2021 monthly Federal Acquisition Service Training (FAST) Conference series. Each session is worth up to 3 Continuous Learning Points. You can find the full lineup of events here.

Registration is open and free for agency and industry partners. Reserve your virtual seat today – we look forward to seeing you there!

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

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Introducing the IT Vendor Management Office: a new government-wide collaborative effort to solve the toughest challenges in federal IT acquisitions

Posted by Vera Ashworth
on April 27, 2021

The last months have been a whirlwind of activity for the new government-wide Information Technology Vendor Management Office (ITVMO). We not only chartered the ITVMO, but have started working with several partner agencies and IT acquisition experts from across government to identify existing resources that can assist agencies with their buying decisions. The ITVMO brings together the most critical players in the federal IT acquisition landscape to solve challenges agencies and vendors face when buying and selling IT products and solutions.

Launched in October 2020, the ITVMO is a government-wide effort to amplify the benefits of managing vendor engagement in the IT Category to make IT acquisitions faster and more cost effective. The ITVMO serves as a trusted independent advisor and advocate to help agencies buy common IT goods and services. As a one-stop shop, the ITVMO will leverage government-wide IT procurement data, conduct market research, and develop shared agency acquisition knowledge to support agencies’ buying decisions.

There are many programs and initiatives across government that are interested in improving how government buys IT. The ITVMO is unique in that it is a collaborative effort amongst partners in Category Management (CM) with the most critical IT acquisition Best in Class (BIC) contract vehicles and associated programs including:

  • The General Services Administration (GSA);
  • The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA);
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH);
  • The Department of Defense (DOD);
  • The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP).

Through this collaboration, the ITVMO will advance the goals of IT Category Management (CM) to improve how the government buys common IT goods and services and enable the government to act more as a single entity by sharing best practices and acquisition intelligence as well as eliminating the unnecessary duplication and redundancy that exists between federal agencies.

What’s Happening & What’s Next

One of the central drivers of CM is to mature federal IT acquisitions so that the government acts more like a single buyer rather than many independent agencies. By creating a space where some of the biggest and most impactful federal IT acquisitions programs and initiatives can collaborate and solve shared problems, establishing the ITVMO is a major step toward that goal.

The ITVMO is chartered and led by an Executive Steering Committee (ESC) comprised of several agencies including those with the largest IT BIC vehicles. The ESC determines the strategic direction and project priorities for the ITVMO to solve problems for agencies and vendors alike.

To identify shared challenges and opportunities throughout government, the ITVMO surveyed hundreds of IT and acquisition experts including the Chief Information Officers Council (CIOC) and the Chief Acquisition Officers Council (CAOC) as well as several communities of practices. The ITVMO team also conducted listening sessions with industry groups. The data and feedback gathered from across government is driving the challenges the ITVMO seeks to address in the near future.

ITVMO Customer Segments

The ITVMO’s primary customers are the programs and offices responsible for making buying decisions at each agency, and the vendor community. On January 27th, the ITVMO hosted an Open House for agencies to provide an overview of the ITVMO’s mission and services, and to answer any questions from the community. More information about the ITVMO Open House, including a video recording of the event, is available to government employees.

Based on customer feedback, the ITVMO is working on several products and services that will be made available to agencies in the near future, including:

  • Continuing a Small Business Webinar Series developed in partnership with the IT Government-wide Category and the American Council for Technology and Industry Advisory Council Small Business Alliance so agencies and vendors can learn how GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service Multiple Award Schedules Program will allow agencies to more easily procure IT products and services from small businesses.
  • Vendor Profiles that provide agencies with pricing information, specific vendors’ terms and conditions, and best practices for negotiating with that vendor.
  • Deep Vendor Intelligence crowdsourced from IT acquisition experts from across the federal government participating in integrated project teams (IPTs).
  • A Technology Life Cycle Assessment to provide agencies with insights into buying emerging technology and updating existing systems and services to meet evolving needs.
  • A deep dive and review of current Cost Avoidance Methodologies used by IT BIC acquisitions vehicles. The ITVMO is working closely with GSA’s IT Category to provide recommendations on how to improve the accuracy and reliability of cost avoidance methodologies and the underlying contract data.

If any of the above interest you, we would love to connect with you. Please feel free to reach out to the ITVMO inbox at itvmo@gsa.gov.

Coming Soon…

The ITVMO recently launched the first of several IPTs made up of the federal government’s foremost experts in working and negotiating with specific IT vendors. The IPTs will produce recommendations and strategies that can be shared and leveraged throughout government.

ITVMO - Integrated Project Teams

On May 12, 2021, The ITVMO will also host an Industry Day intended for our industry and vendor partners to learn about the mission of the ITVMO and the best way to collaborate with the ITVMO and federal IT acquisitions staff.

Finally, the ITVMO will soon launch our website to share the ITVMO’s latest updates and activities, post relevant templates and resources, and direct users to the relevant information to meet their IT acquisition needs.

Additional insight can be found on our ITVMO MAX page, and you can sign up for our newsletter. If you have any questions or general inquiries, please feel free to reach out to us at the ITVMO inbox at itvmo@gsa.gov.

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

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Air Force and GSA Sign MOU for IT Products BPAs

Posted by Kay Ely
on September 5, 2018

By Kay Ely, Assistant Commissioner, Office of Information Technology Category

In June, I hosted several officials from the U.S. Air Force here at GSA for an official signing ceremony. My team and their counterparts at the Air Force have worked diligently together over the past several months to better understand the Air Force’s IT products needs as their current contract solution approaches its sunset in November 2019.

Our two agencies have entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU). This MOU sets forth guiding principles for a strategic partnership that allows GSA’s IT Hardware Category Team and IT Schedule 70 to establish a multiple-award blanket purchase agreement (BPA) on behalf of the Air Force. This BPA will replace the Air Force NETCENTS-2 IT Products IDIQ contract.

The IT Products BPA is expected to be available to all federal government agencies, as well as state, local, and tribal entities, consistent with GSA’s Cooperative Purchasing program.

Partnering for Better Solutions

This MOU allows us to consolidate knowledge and buying power to shape our acquisition strategy, making sure that we’re helping the federal government effectively acquire IT goods. The solution we develop will streamline the Air Force’s acquisition process — and, the federal government’s, more broadly — as well as reduce contract duplication, while saving time, resources, and taxpayer dollars. This solution also:

  • Ensures Air Force receives Trade Agreements Act (TAA)-compliant products
  • Mitigates risk of grey-market items
  • Incorporates enhanced supply chain risk management (SCRM) processes from GSA-vetted industry partners

Answering the Call to Increase Savings

Partnerships like this directly address the call to action presented in the President’s Management Agenda (PMA). PMA Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal 7 on category management specifically directs agencies to “leverage common contracts and best practices to drive savings and efficiencies.”

We Appreciate our Partners

I would like to thank the Air Force for the confidence they placed in us as we formally acknowledged this agreement.

We value our continuing partnership with the Air Force and their commitment to using GSA. We are looking forward to working together to build a world-class solution for purchasing IT products efficiently, securely, and at competitive prices.

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

From Left: Mary Davie, Deputy Commissioner, GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service; William E. Marion II, Deputy Chief, Information Dominance and Deputy Chief Information Officer, USAF; Kay T. Ely, Assistant Commissioner, GSA’s Office of Information Technology Category; Mr. Richard W. Lombardi, Deputy Under Secretary of the USAF; Brigadier General Cameron G. Holt, USAF

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8(a) STARS II GWAC Continues Win-Win for Government Customers and Small Businesses

Posted by Mary Davie
on August 15, 2017

(Editorial note: This blog is written by Kay Ely, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Office of Information Technology Category)

Moving government IT capabilities forward to meet the operational challenges of the 21st century is not a one person job – it requires a balance of government and industry, especially small businesses, all collaborating and working together. Our small business Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) vendors have years of experience in finding that balance and the numbers to show for it. With more than 3,200 task order awards valued at $5.3 billion since 2011, the 8(a) STARS II GWAC delivers on its promises to federal agencies and provides abundant opportunity for small businesses.

During a recent open season, we added approximately 500 industry partners to GSA’s 8(a) STARS II GWAC. This increase in qualified vendors enhances opportunities to small businesses while moving the federal government forward with more competitive and innovative sources of IT services.

The open season awards, announced on June 13, 2017, help GSA continue our support of the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) business development program while assisting agencies in meeting their small business goals, operational requirements, and mission needs.

Helping promote small business growth

Conducting an open season solicitation on the existing 8(a) STARS II contract allowed hundreds of new 8(a) IT firms to join the GWAC, giving them access to federal procurement opportunities that may have previously been closed to them. It increases competition and allows GSA to offer an even stronger pool of diverse and capable vendors to our customer agencies.

Providing federal agencies flexible IT solutions

Like all of our GWACs, the 8(a) STARS II GWAC is a multiple-award, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity (ID/IQ) contract designed to provide federal agencies cutting-edge technology solutions.

It includes four functional areas, derived from the North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS):

  • Custom Computer Programming Services (NAICS 541511)
  • Computer Systems Design Services (NAICS 541512)
  • Computer Facilities Management Services (NAICS 541513)
  • Other Computer Related Services (NAICS 541519)

I welcome our newest industry partners and wish them much success working with us. I encourage acquisition professionals to learn more about 8(a)STARS II and use it for their next IT acquisition.

Learn how the 8(a) STARS II GWAC can help you with your IT requirements.

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OMB: GSA Tech Solutions Are “Best in Class,” Driving Smarter Government Buying

Posted by Mary Davie
on July 17, 2017

(Editorial note: This blog is written by Kay Ely, Acting Assistant Commissioner, Office of Information Technology Category)

For more than six decades, GSA has led the way in developing government-wide acquisition solutions, leveraging the power of government’s economies of scale and driving efficiencies across federal, state, local, and tribal governments.

We’re extremely proud that our Governmentwide Strategic Solution (GSS) Laptop/Desktop, along with Hardware and Software for IT Schedule 70, have been designated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as “Best-in-Class” (BIC) – part of the first group that OMB recognized in the IT Category.

BIC designations signal to the acquisition community that these solutions meet rigorous category management performance criteria and confirm that we offer the necessary solutions and processes to meet government’s current and future IT requirements. Great news…but we’re only getting started. What’s next?

Buying Smarter

These newly BIC-designated IT contracts represent preferred government-wide purchasing solutions and provide a unique opportunity to leverage the government’s buying power. The BIC designation allows acquisition experts to take advantage of pre-vetted, government-wide contract solutions and supports a government-wide migration to solutions that are mature and market-proven. They also help optimize spend within the government-wide category management framework and increase the transactional data available for agency level and government-wide analysis of buying behavior.

BIC designations are just the latest of several initiatives around customer-centric tools, templates, and best practices that government-wide category management is using to enable government IT to:

  • Improve requirements development, procurement and management
  • Partner strategically with industry
  • Reduce contract duplication
  • Foster cross-agency collaboration

Next Steps

But we’re not resting. We will continue to aim high and strive for higher quality and efficiency in order to provide value to government agencies. We will constantly review and improve our IT acquisition vehicles to maximize value for agencies’ mission requirements. And, we plan to offer other IT solutions for BIC designation review.

We believe a BIC designation is not the end state, but rather an important milestone on a journey to help agencies improve their buying strategies.

Another way we’re making it easier for government to buy smarter: we’ve updated the Acquisition Gateway and GSA.gov pages below to display the BIC designations

See which contracts are raising the bar:

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

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

Posted by Mary Davie
on May 18, 2017

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

Posted by Mary Davie
on May 2, 2017

(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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Working Hard to Improve Security, Safety, and Quality of Life for Americans

Posted by Mary Davie
on February 9, 2017

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 ​Office of Information Technology Category (ITC) organization offers to support other agencies’ missions.

(Note: This is a guest blog post by Amando E. Gavino Jr., Director, Office of Telecommunications Services. Gavino is responsible for a portfolio of telecommunication acquisition solutions that provide government agencies the ability to meet their diverse set of telecommunication requirements.)

ITC’s Office of Telecommunications Services provides a wide variety of offerings to federal, state and local governments which includes voice, video, data, managed network services, call center services, mobile and wireless, satellite services, last mile connections and much more. Because of our partnership with industry and our robust solution sets, we are able to provide government agencies seamless access and support, thus achieving shared value and expanding the benefits of modern technology. We’re continually transforming and enabling improvement to the security, safety, and quality of life for our nation and its citizens.

We enhance security by providing the communications services that connect law enforcement resources with information locally and worldwide to counter crime and terrorism. We also support the safety of our men and women in uniform, humanitarian relief, disaster-response, and counterterrorism efforts through satellites. And the telecommunications service we provide also improves government’s ability to respond  anywhere and anytime through mobile devices (i.e., tablets and wireless smartphones); enhances patient health care for veterans and aging population; supports farmers and ranchers; tracks wildlife and diseases; and ensures food safety and inspections.

A Look Back at 2016

We’re always trying to improve, and here are a few ways:

Simplifying, Standardizing, and Buying in Volume

The Category Management (CM) approach to simplify, standardize, and make use of volume to streamline enterprise-wide telecom is the focus of Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions (EIS). CM helps us adapt our solutions as the industry changes and as agency needs change. For example, we’re being less local and more global to ensure agencies adopt security and unified communication technologies that comply with best practices.

Managing Telecom as a Subcategory

We are managing Telecom and all of our offerings in IT as a comprehensive portfolio and have technical, functional and acquisition experts to help agencies buy in a more efficient way and improve mission delivery.

Engaging Agencies and Industry

In 2016, GSA continued to engage agency and industry partners to shape the upcoming EIS, which will replace Networx and local and regional telecom services. We formed the EIS Infrastructure Advisory Group (IAG) to define priorities share best practices, plan for transition and ensure the final EIS solution meets government’s needs.

Optimizing Telecom Use and Spend

Because of our strong partnerships with agencies, GSA’s telecommunications program is recognized as “the government’s telecommunications program,” and as a result, we are able to aggregate and leverage more than $2 billion in annual spend and document over $675 million in savings.

Providing a Range of Purchasing Options

We recognize that ease of use is critical for our agency customers so we offer a range of purchasing solutions across our IT and telecommunications contracts — everything from self service through delegated procurement authority … to monitoring contract service level agreement achievement … to providing advice and consulting to providing fully assisted services.

Enhancing Agencies’ Understanding of Telecom Purchases

Telecom has been managed as a category for a while. Because of standard service definitions and contract terms in contracts like Networx, agencies can make “apples to apples” comparisons around services. This makes it easier for GSA and other agencies to make comparisons between suppliers and to get the best value for their purchases. And, because of the data we collect on purchasing, GSA can clearly see purchasing trends which shape future contracts (e.g., EIS, etc.) and our discussions with agencies and suppliers. We continually refine this data driven approach to supplier management to get better value for agencies and taxpayers.

Here is what we have seen over the past 10 years. Demand for bandwidth has increased at a compound annual growth rate that exceeds 30 percent, but our normalized costs for the bandwidth has decreased. Part of this is simply an industry phenomenon. Bandwidth is getting cheaper; however, part of this is due to our data driven approach to our interactions with suppliers. We expect bandwidth to be “cheaper by the dozen” and we have an approach to ensure this is the case. Further, most agencies are modernizing their networks through increased bandwidth demand, especially via Ethernet services. For instance, enterprise network services are migrating towards 10/100/1000 Mbps Ethernet; our Networx extensions focused on this migration and Ethernet is an EIS required service.

The increased demand for these services drove purchasing up 10 percent on Networx in 2016, which further lowers telecom costs, especially for Ethernet services. The availability, performance, and price of Ethernet services will remain important for years to come. In 2017 and beyond, EIS is on target to continue lowering costs for government.

2017 Telecom Priorities

Our biggest priority in 2017 is to continue to collaborate across government and industry, and begin the transition to EIS.

The EIS Transition Challenge Government-wide

GSA and agency partners are preparing for the EIS awards so transition can begin and be completed by 2020. All agencies using Networx were required to submit Agency Transition Plans, which were due in fall 2016. We are excited to continue to work with industry and agency partners to take advantage of new solutions and new technology.

Mobility Savings and Enhanced Management

Mobile services are also in the spotlight in 2017. Five wireless service plans — three data and two voice plans — represent more than 90 percent of federal government’s purchases of mobile services. Standardized buying forces competition to focus on price and quality since many features and requirements are the same (Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative-Wireless (FSSI-W) customers paid 26%  less in 2016 than in 2012 because of this simple standardized strategy). In 2017, the government-wide Mobile Services Category Team (MSCT) will drive further savings as FSSI-W growth continues and the MSCT defines the next-generation mobility program.

Demands for Bandwidth, Security, and Satellites

Bandwidth demands and security capabilities will continue to grow in 2017, and we’ll also launch a new Commercial Satellite Custom Commercial SATCOM Solutions (CS3) contract.

In all these areas, we partner with agencies to find the best telecom infrastructure solutions to meet mission needs.

Learn More about Telecom Solutions

To find out more about available tools, best practices, and telecom solutions, select Telecommunications and Network Services on GSA’s website and visit the Telecommunications Hallway on the Acquisition Gateway.

Please follow ITC on Twitter @GSA_ITC and LinkedIn to join our ongoing conversations about government IT. Visit all the IT Hallways on the Acquisition Gateway for more information on the IT category and subcategories.

 

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