Though NITAAC's CIO-CS is still pending approval from the Office of Management and Budget, contractors are eagerly watching for the solicitation. (Getty Images/Mark Wilson)
The National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center prides itself on being a faster, easier option for buying federal IT solutions.
Today, those solutions include software development, cybersecurity and health IT offerings across its three governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs). If NITAAC has its way, federal agencies will have access to a “whole new spectrum of products and services both on site and in the cloud” through an upcoming GWAC awaiting final approval, according to NITAAC.
The Chief Information Officer-Commodities and Solutions (CIO-CS) is NITAAC’s next-generation IT commodity contract. It will replace the current Electronic Commodities Store (ECS-III) contract.
NITAAC is trying to build a contract that is relevant for the next 10 years, said Acting Director Robert Coen. Managed utilities and cloud will be a large part of the contract, which is on par with federal adoption of cloud services, Coen said during a March 26 Federal News Radio interview.
CIO-CS is a 10-year indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract, worth up to $10 billion, Jennifer Sakole, a principal analyst at Deltek, said in a Federal Times blog post.
“The Office of Management and Budget is still in the process of approving the new GWAC, so there’s no telling when the solicitation will be released,” Sakole said. “For the many companies that have had this vehicle in their pipelines and are ready to bid, we can assume that the delay is frustrating; however, others who haven’t already considered the opportunity may welcome it.”
Red River is among the vendors anticipating a final solicitation for CIO-CS. The company is one of dozens of contract holders on ECS III.
“We are absolutely moving forward,” Jeff Snider, Red River’s vice president of business capture, said of plans to bid for a spot on the new contract. “It would be a nightmare not to bid on this.”
CIO-CS would be one of the few contracts available for agencies to buy cloud services. If it becomes the easiest to use, “they could be the right vehicle, at the right time, with the right scope,” Snider said.
While other vehicles have some flavor of cloud within their scope, such as NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement IV (SEWP) and the ECS III contracts, the new CIO-CS vehicle seems to emphasize cloud in a greater way, he said. “We will have to propose specific offerings and define them, rather than just have generic cloud allowed within the scope of the contract.”
Snider has seen an uptick in business recently under the ECS III contract, noting a recent award by the Census Bureau for network infrastructure across the Commerce Department. “That is a big agency using this vehicle for the next five years,” Snider said. “It’s getting buy-in.”
That bodes well for NITAAC as Coen and his team try to increase awareness and benefits of its contract vehicles.
Since 2002, agencies have spent a reported $2.2 billion on the potential $6 billion ECS III contract, Sakole said, with peak years in fiscal 2012 and 2013.
“We’re seeing a lot of agencies starting to learn that using GWACs is the more flexible and efficient way to go in acquiring IT,” Coen said. While these types of contract vehicles have been in existence for about two decades, the greatest challenge is changing the way contracting is done in the federal government and educating the acquisition workforce.
The ECS III contract competes with NASA’s SEWP contracts, Snider said. The reason for choosing one GWAC over another varies and may depend on what contract best meets an agency’s needs or which has the lowest fees.
The new CIO-CS contract is expected to use the same fee amount as ECS III: 0.5 percent.
On the industry side, Coen is seeing more teaming arrangements and vendors partnering to meet agency customers’ requirements. Under the new CIO-CS contract, that will likely be the case for vendors looking to offer cloud solutions that meet federal security standards.
For Red River, Snider said the company is partnering with providers like Amazon that have approved cloud offerings. He expects any Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) requirements will be included in individual agency task orders against the CIO-CS contract.
Under CIO-CS, vendors will be able to compete for infrastructure and platform services work. The intent is for agencies to pay only for the services they use, rather than overbuying or acquiring more hardware and software.
“With capital budgets getting tight all the way across government, this is a more flexible [option],” Snider said.■