The growing importance of GWACs and the challenges they face – Washington Technology

ACQUISITION
NOTE: This article first appeared on FCW.com.
Thirty years ago, scientists at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center found themselves at the heart of a consequential race against time — albeit one far less publicized than that of their astronaut companions.
Leaders from the technical, policy and procurement worlds convened at the center in 1992 to explore new, faster ways for NASA scientists to get their hands on the latest computers. The goal was to create a procurement method that would allow NASA to make critical purchases in a matter of months by reducing the red tape that delayed the acquisition of emerging technologies.
NASA leaders eventually requested procurement authorities from the General Services Administration so that they could establish pre-competed indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contracts, which allowed them to negotiate their own prices and pre-qualify sellers. The program became known as NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP), and it served as the pilot project for an experimental approach at the time: the governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC).
Joanne Woytek, who launched SEWP a year after those meetings were held at Goddard and continues to manage day-to-day operations as the GWAC’s program manager, said its purpose remains largely unchanged despite nearly three decades and five distinct iterations.
“While almost 30 years have gone by, much of the basics of SEWP I remain,” Woytek told FCW. “With each iteration of SEWP, we have reviewed technology trends and customer requirements and expanded the scope of the contracts to be inclusive of all IT, AV and communication products, and with SEWP IV and V, all related services.”
Although its foundation is intact, SEWP continues to evolve and to serve as both a precedent and a trailblazer for other GWACs. Changes include switching from time-consuming paper-based updates of technology offerings to electronic updates that are typically executed in less than an hour and emphasizing support for agencywide initiatives rather than focusing on individual procurement actions.
GWACs quickly grew in popularity after Congress passed the Clinger-Cohen Act in 1996. The law cemented the procurement method into law and designated the Office of Management and Budget to monitor the effectiveness of agencies’ IT investments. As GWACs evolved, more agencies began using them, said Andrew Endicott, a principal research analyst at Deltek.
For example, the Department of Homeland Security has expanded its use of GWACs and moved away from its own pre-established, multiple-award contracts such as the Technical, Acquisition and Business Support Services and the Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading-Edge Solutions.
Perhaps the biggest selling point is that GWACs have focused on cost savings since their inception while becoming more innovative and streamlined. For example, there is a new emphasis on category management and a Best-in-Class designation for specific vehicles. GWACs also offer increasingly competitive rates on fees. NASA’s SEWP has always had the lowest fee of any GWAC, starting at 2.6% in 1993 and dropping to the current rate of 0.34%, according to Woytek.
Furthermore, these large pre-competed contract vehicles reduce the amount of effort and time other agencies need to expend on procurement. “The ability to utilize already established vehicles is a real cost savings for them as opposed to running these massive procurements that could take several years from inception to award and conclusion of any protests that will almost inevitably follow,” Endicott said.
On the industry side, GWACs have the potential to provide government contractors with a simplified process and access to federal IT acquisition specialists, said Linda Cureton, CEO of Muse Technologies and former CIO at NASA.
“I’ve seen from both the government and industry side that, except for the NASA SEWP and [GSA’s] 8(a) STARS III contracts, the government contracting personnel at the IDIQ level do not generally know a lot about IT,” Cureton said. “Sometimes that’s a hindrance but not necessarily a roadblock. This deficiency is overcome with contracting professionals who are more IT savvy, with a commitment to stay that way with depth better than the buzzword level of knowledge.”
She added that she believes “GWACs are making tremendous progress in that space.”
Each iteration of a GWAC comes with significant growth. SEWP IV brought in more than $16 billion over its lifespan, but SEWP V has already hit $31.7 billion. The National Institutes of Health’s CIO-SP2i brought in $4.1 billion, while the currently active CIO-SP3 has already seen $18.6 billion in awards.
However, the expanding popularity of GWACs has some experts concerned that there could be an exclusionary ripple effect across the public marketplace. They say that although GWACs have the ability to bring a diverse coalition of new entrants into the federal marketplace, there are challenges.
“While GWACs are difficult for startups to navigate, the model does help lead to federal work, can serve as a stamp of approval and opens door to make the procurement process more efficient in the long term,” said Alec Longarzo, director of federal business development at technology services firm Dcode. “GWACs require a large resource investment and, in many instances, help from external consultants and partners. Small businesses can’t always throw large teams at these vehicles and impact other aspects of their business as a result.”
Governmentwide acquisition contracts are a key part of the Office of Management and Budget’s category management strategy. Agencies are encouraged — and in some cases required — to use GWACs that have met OMB’s Best in Class criteria because of their rigorous requirements definitions, appropriate pricing strategies, and supporting data to measure and manage performance. The following IT-related GWACs have been designated Best in Class.
8(a) STARS III
Run by the General Services Administration, this GWAC focuses on integrated IT solutions from small, disadvantaged businesses that have been certified under the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) program.
ADMC-2
This Army-administered contract vehicle offers laptops and desktops as well as tablets, monitors, printers, and ruggedized and semi-ruggedized devices.
Alliant 2
Administered by GSA, the current Alliant vehicle offers comprehensive and flexible IT solutions worldwide.
CIO-CS
Run by the National Institutes of Health’s IT Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC), this vehicle offers commercial IT products and as-a-service solutions on site or in the cloud.
CIO-SP3 and CIO-SP3 SB
These NITAAC GWACs complement CIO-CS by offering a wide range of commercial and non-commercial IT solutions and services. CIO-SP3 is a small-business set-aside.
Complex Commercial SATCOM Solutions
This GSA-run GWAC covers large, complex, custom satellite solutions, including services and components.
Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions
The successor to Networx, EIS is GSA’s comprehensive solution-based vehicle to address all aspects of agencies’ IT telecommunications and infrastructure requirements.
FSSI Wireless
This GSA-run GWAC offers wireless services for governmentwide use.
MAS IT
The IT-focused section of GSA’s Multiple Acquisition Schedule provides innovative hardware- and software-based technology products, services and solutions. There is also a subsection dedicated to wireless mobility solutions.
OASIS and OASIS SB
Administered by GSA, OASIS focuses on flexible and innovative solutions for complex professional services that span many areas of expertise, mission spaces and disciplines. OASIS SB is a small business-only vehicle.
SEWP
Now in its fifth iteration, NASA’s SEWP delivers a broad range of commercial IT products and services governmentwide.
VETS 2
A set-aside for small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans, this GSA-run GWAC provides federal customers with customized IT solutions.
Similarly, Endicott said that “some small businesses have expressed concern about the increased utilization of GWACs. Smaller contractors may not have the time, resources or experience to go after these larger GWACs, and these companies worry they may be excluded from a sizable amount of work if those requirements are completed through vehicles.”
Vendor protests against contract awards have played a critical role in shaping GWACs since 1994, when Congress allowed government contractors a limited ability to file protests with the Government Accountability Office. Categories for protests have expanded over the years to encompass a wide range of potential issues, including objections to an order that exceeds the scope or value of the contract. Companies can only file protests against task orders greater than $10 million at civilian agencies and $25 million at the Defense Department.
The number of protests filed in response to new task orders has risen over the years. Those protests serve to ensure that agencies are following procurement rules, but a multitude of protests against specific contract vehicles have the potential to derail procurement goals and deadlines for agencies working to achieve critical IT milestones.

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