The fifth installment of NASA's Solutions for Enterprise Wide Procurement (SEWP) GWAC is set to launch on May 1, with an interim SEWP IV Enhanced vehicle branching the gap in March and April. The new SEWP V will launch with more than 80 pre-competed vendor contracts and a slew of new tools and enhancements to make the contracting process easier.

SEWP Program Manager Joanne Woytek sat down with Federal Times Senior Writer Aaron Boyd to talk about what's new on SEWP V and its place in the history of the first governmentwide acquisition contract.

The initial awards announced in October were protested. How has that affected the rollout of SEWP V?

The timeline was in the fall when we officially made the selections for SEWP V. There are four or five groups in SEWP V and of those, we announced three of them, and were ready to announce all of them. At that point in time, we received some protests. We dealt with a few directly, went looking at the other ones, and realized we needed to do a clarification or look at the issues that were raised and determine how best to respond to them. So we pulled back the awards at that point in time and rather than trying to respond via protest, we are going through an updated selection.

What is new on SEWP V?

We will have new companies. We had, as I mentioned, announced awards for a number of companies, which showed that we were heading towards over 80 companies being awarded in the end. That is still going to hold true. So we will have a significant increase in the number of companies in SEWP V than were SEWP IV. We think this is going to be really helpful to government, provide us with much more competition and much more responsiveness.

Then internally to the structure of the program and the primary changes — we realized that as we grew out of being just a small contract, people came to buy one thing here, one thing there and were using us more strategically and perhaps not using us because they did not see us as a strategic contract. We needed to put things in place that made these contracts provide information and access to the CIOs and the procurement chiefs at agencies. We needed to give them more access to the information — give them more control over what they are doing than even they can do on their own because we have the infrastructure here.

How is SEWP V going to be easier for procurement specialists to buy what they need?

It is actually pretty easy now. I think the main changes that we are doing that affect that level are providing better RFI tools and helping them to better understand what they can buy and what they can get through the contracts.

We are trying to make the quoting process a little simpler. We go out and train our customers almost daily — and it is actually myself and my deputy many times — so that we can hear from our customers about what they want. So a lot of the changes that we put into place, almost all of them, are based on customer feedback.

It seems simple but is actually very insightful, and I think they are going to love it. On our quote tool it will actually show the price, so they do not have to open the quote up to find out what the price is. Then they will be able to sort by the price and it is all automated so they will just click a button and, bang, they have everything they want upfront.

We are also trying to give them more information up front. If there is a problem with the contractor, we will let them know when they get the quotes. If they have met EP [energy performance] compliance or Energy Star compliance, we will let them know at that point in time. Trying to get them the information as close to the procurement and the acquisition folks as we can, versus having them dig for it or just hope that it is out there.

Why would agencies choose to go to SEWP over another contract vehicle or IT schedule?

I do not necessarily know why, versus another contract vehicle because I am more worried about why they come to us. What we provide is a set of pre-competed contracts with a very intense infrastructure, with over 20 years of doing this.

Our goal is to be a vehicle that they come to, and we give them that information. Take some of the workloads that are not important to them, but they need to do and give it to them from us.

What was the impetus behind reducing the fee and how does that fee compare to other contract vehicles?

In reality the fee was not really reduced it was maintained. We had a different structure before. The structure before was 0.45 percent with a cap. We realized that while that has some niceness to it, there were a lot of issues with trying to track and maintain it, both from our point of view, the contractor's point of view and customer's point of view. It added a layer of difficulty, so rather than doing that, we decided to average it out.

Basically, we are maintaining the fee in terms of an average. So if an agency was using us before, they were probably paying about 0.39 percent; we have decreased the fee to 0.39 percent across the board. Some orders in the future might be paying less, some might be paying a little bit more if they were capped before, but in the end, at the agency level, they are paying the same amount.

There are contracts out there with 0.5 percent I know. There are schedules with 0.75 percent. I do not know of anyone who is lower than 0.39 percent, and I will say that our pledge is, if all goes well, to have that lower in the future.

What products and services are not on SEWP V?

We are not primarily a service contract. What that means is we do not do general support services. We do not do big software development requirements. That is where we look at the other GWACs, in particular the Alliant and the NIH CIO-SP contracts. They are very structured to serve that type of services, the non-product specific, general support, large service requirements. We do product services, warranty, installation and training on products.

You can get training on Juniper but you cannot get training on networking, so it is that sort of differentiator. You get a service that is a network optimization service from Cisco, but you cannot get general network support on the contract.

So it has to be a product specific service, as long as it is and it is within the scope — if you get outside of that, then really that is what the other GWACs are good for.

What is exciting about what you are doing?

I think what most is exciting about SEWP right now is the growth that we are seeing, not in the number of agencies, but the growth in agencies' understanding that we can give them more than just a buy one item here and there. We can actually give them that infrastructure that will make them successful. That we can give them more control, more reporting, and those things that they say, 'I have to do it myself.'

They know that if they do it with us, we can actually do it better, and we have had several agencies that have gone off on their own and come back to us.

The bottom line with SEWP is we are not a contract. We are a program. The contract is what the program handles, but we do primarily see ourselves as a program. It does differentiate us from a lot of the others, where people try to build a contract. We are trying to build a program.

I think the big burning question on everybody's mind any time you talk about SEWP is what's with the ducky?

Back in '92 when SEWP was being started — and I do not know how they came up with SEWP. I was not in the first few meetings. I was not even in the duck meeting, but I have heard the story many times and told it many times.

So they came up with SEWP pretty quickly as the acronym. I guess in government we always go with acronyms. Then in the second meeting, one of the three — what I call the godfathers of SEWP, the guys who started SEWP — said it will be as easy as duck soup.

I actually have a picture of that pre-meeting where it is just a bowl with steam coming out as our logo. Then shortly thereafter, somebody stuck some claws in there to show a duck in the bowl, and it grew from that. It was just a saying, not a marketing ploy. It was not something we spent millions of dollars deciding on. It was just a random statement at a meeting.

Hopefully you have to have a little fun with yourself, and it is a nice symbol of that for us.

Aaron Boyd is an awarding-winning journalist currently serving as editor of Federal Times — a Washington, D.C. institution covering federal workforce and contracting for more than 50 years — and Fifth Domain — a news and information hub focused on cybersecurity and cyberwar from a civilian, military and international perspective.

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