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Small businesses gain ground in contracting. Here's why.

January 16, 2015 (Photo Credit: Courtesy)
Jennifer Sakole is the principal analyst for Federal Information Solutions at Deltek.

At the end of the year, Federal News Radio's "Off the Shelf" explored " What's it like in the GWAC world?" Featuring Rob Coen, acting director of NIH's GWAC program, and Joyce Woytek, NASA's SEWP program manager, the interview covered the current and future state of GWACs.

As they shared the increased success of small businesses, three approaches stood out: more stringent requirements for vetting small businesses up front; inclusion of all five socio-economic categories in the contracts; and the use of on-ramps. At Deltek we are seeing – or expect to see – these approaches incorporated as part of several highly anticipated programs to be solicited this year.

Increased Vetting

Asked what's driving the success of small business awards on his programs, Mr. Coen explained that spending more time upfront vetting small businesses – which must meet more stringent requirements – has resulted in increased comfort for government buyers. In turn, they have seen more high-dollar value/complex procurements for set-asides.

At Deltek, we're seeing this upfront vetting of small businesses playing out in high-profile procurements like Alliant 2 Small Business (A2SB), in which offerors will be required to prove that they have an accounting system found to be "adequate" for federal cost reimbursement contracting by DCAA or any other cognizant federal agency. No deviations or waivers will be granted for this proposal requirement.

Why? During an industry meeting for Alliant 2 hosted by the Coalition for Government Procurement in November, one of the government panel members explained that increased vetting ensures companies can bid on tasks at Day One, regardless of contract type. This is the only "Go/ No Go" evaluation criteria for A2/A2SB.

It is worth noting that this also was a requirement in the original Alliant procurements. In the FAQs associated with Alliant RFPs, GSA indicated that it would not request pre-award surveys for firms with accounting systems that had not yet been audited and deemed "adequate." Assuming this holds true in the Alliant 2 solicitations, companies that have not received an "adequate" may need to consider teaming.

In contrast, the CIO-SP3 Small Business solicitation (October 2010) required that contractors interested in participating in Cost-Reimbursement (CR) task orders demonstrate ownership of an "adequate" accounting system by the task order award; the OASIS SB solicitation (July 2013) provided for a pre-award survey , if applicable.

Socio-Economic Categories

Another driver of increased small business awards on GWACs cited by Mr. Coen was move to include all five socio-economic categories, specifically referencing CIO SP3 SB, which allows the customers more flexibility in selecting a category for procurement.

Ms. Woytek discussed that SEWP was the first GWAC to offer the SDVOSB category, which has proven to be a success. She also indicated that SEWP V, which Deltek estimates will be awarded in February 2015, offers all socio- economic categories to meet the needs of its customers.

It will be interesting to see what strategy will be employed for A2SB when the draft RFP is released in March.

On-Ramps

A final element likely to impact small business awards is an agency increasing the number of qualified vendors at original contract award to minimize the need for on-ramps. NASA's SEWP V is just one of the latest GWACs to utilize this approach.

Ms. Woytek shared that NASA hopes the pool of SEWP V vendors is large enough at the onset to provide a range of companies capable of competing on tasks long-term. That way, they will only need to look at the pool of vendors again at the five-year recertification.

In terms of CIO-SP3 SB, Mr. Coen stated that there is a provision for on-ramp/off-ramp after three years, but that will depend on the level of competition, which will be reviewed at the three-year mark, as well as at the five-year recertification. The three-year mark for CIO SB 3 is April 2015.

In mid-December, there was a post on the OASIS Interact site about on-ramps, where it was noted that there were approximately 40 awards in each pool; this is expected to result in a good level of competition at three to five bids per task order.

The OASIS PO is planning to monitor the bids received for TOs awarded. Only if the competitive level is not met in a specific pool will an on-ramp be considered. It was also noted that on-ramps are expected to be competed when the initial contract expires in 2019.

As we wait to see if the government embraces these trends in GWAC procurements like Alliant 2, there are additional non-GWAC procurements in 2015 with significant small business set-aside portions anticipated. These include GSA's government-wide MAC Human Capital and Training Services (HCaTS) – the solicitation is expected in April 2015 – and the Army's Information Technology Enterprise Solutions 3 (ITES 3S). Deltek estimates the ITES 3S solicitation in July 2015.

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