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Agencies banking on familiar contract vehicles

Mar. 30, 2012 - 03:28PM   |  
By SARAH CHACKO   |   Comments

Contract vehicles with the most federal spending succeed for one of two reasons: Agencies know them by name, or they meet agency-specific needs, contract experts say.">Four of the top 10 contract vehicles in fiscal 2011 two General Services Administration federal supply schedules and two governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) attract agencies looking for information technology products and services. GWACs are specifically for IT goods and services. One of these contracts run by NASA called SEWP IV offers products, while GSA's Alliant GWAC is best known for services.

Although federal IT spending has leveled off, it is still among the top areas of spending as agencies update and maintain systems, industry analysts said. IT software, hardware and services have become so commoditized that it is easier for agencies to compare prices and buy off existing contract vehicles than create their own contracts for an average IT purchase, said Ray Bjorklund, chief knowledge officer at market research firm Deltek.

GSA's Alliant contract shows dramatic growth since it was created in 2009. In its first two full years, spending on Alliant jumped from $1.6 billion in 2010 to $6.4 billion in 2011.

GSA does not know whether agencies are migrating from other contracts to Alliant, said Casey Kelley, director of GSA's Enterprise GWAC Division.

Alliant, which has a $50 billion ceiling, has earned credibility with agencies and has a broad IT scope, Kelley said. Other features, such as reviews of an agency's statement of work, acquisition templates for task orders and statements of work, and ordering guides also make the vehicle attractive, she said.

"We believe that word of mouth and reputation has had a big impact," she said.

Agencies, such as GSA and NASA, heavily market their contract vehicles, said Rob Burton, former deputy administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy. Go to any of the national conferences for federal acquisition workers and GSA and NASA employees will likely have a booth up, he said.

In addition to Alliant, GSA has four federal supply schedules among the government's top 10 contract vehicles.

Along with governmentwide schedules and contracts, major agency-specific multiple award contracts, like the Navy's Seaport-e, are well known in the contracting community, said Leonardo Manning, director of the Defense Acquisition University's Center for Contracting. Contracting officers know what those contracts offer as well as their strengths and weaknesses compared with other contracts, he said.

Contracts like Seaport-e "are well known around the country for professional support services," he said. He added that the top contracts are user-friendly and are designed to generate much competition.

Navy Seaport-e, at No. 3, and Army Strategic Services Sourcing (S3), at No. 7, likely earned their place among the top 10 because military agencies go to them first for their needs, Burton said. Most departments ask and sometimes require their contracting officers to look at internal contracts before using schedules or contracts run by other agencies that charge fees, he said.

Although Navy agencies are not required to use Seaport-e, "most use it to put contracts in place because it's much easier than doing a stand-alone acquisition," said Pat Dolan, spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command, which manages Seaport-e.

Seaport-e was created in 2004 as an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract with a maximum value of $5.3 billion, Dolan said. Vendors have base contracts from five to three years, depending on when they entered on the contract. Seaport-e provides support services including acquisition logistics, test and evaluation trials, engineering, administration and financial management, to eight Navy commands and the Marine Corps.

The Army's S3 $19.3 billion multiple-award contract offers five Army commands engineering, communication and logistics services.

More than 1,900 contractors who use Deltek services have expressed interest in the next version, which is anticipated to have a $30 billion ceiling, said Lucy Axton, Army analyst at Deltek.

Contractors are making plans because the requirements are expected to be similar to the original 2006 contract, she said.

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