The National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) recently awarded contracts on the Chief Information Officer-Commodities and Solutions (CIO-CS) GWAC. NITAAC Program Director Robert Coen sat down with Federal Times Senior Writer Aaron Boyd to discuss the new contract vehicle and how it builds in agility to meet the ever-changing needs of IT for the next decade.

What's the status of CIO-CS?

CIO-CS is the follow-on to the current ECSIII GWAC — that is a contract that has been around for about 20 years mainly focused on providing IT products.

What we did when we were creating the CIO-CS contract was look at the evolving needs of our customers, the evolving changes in IT to make sure that we build a contract that met those needs that are not being met under the current CIO-SP3 contract. The CIO-SP3 is a contract that meets all of the customized solutions for IT, mainly the labor and the services that go along with building customized solutions for our customers. CIO-CS is more of a tactical contract.

It is able to meet the product needs, the cloud needs, the commoditized solution needs, the managed service needs, all those new evolving cloud software solutions, and infrastructure solutions for cloud — anything that can be bought in a fixed-price environment.

We designed this contract similar to how we design CIO-SP3, where we have those larger OEM manufacturers, but we also have a mix of small businesses. We have HUBZone businesses. We will have 8A businesses, service-disabled veteran and women-owned; every one of the socioeconomic categories.

How does CIO-CS compare to the other large GWACs?

The CIO-CS GWAC has a $20 billion ceiling. It is a 10-year contract. That was built because we saw that the need was there, and we felt that the market would drive that. The CIO-SP3 GWACs are $20 billion each. To date, over two-and-a-half years we have done almost $8 billion in sales on those two GWACs. We are very proud also that 50 percent of those have gone to small businesses.

The way that we manage our program and the way that we judge how successful we are is by the support that we are providing our customers.

What is going to be new on CS, particularly as it evolves from the ECSIII contract into CIO-CS?

The changes from ECSIII to CIO-CS are enormous. This is not the same contract. When we designed CIO-CS, we looked at ECSIII, and we saw a contract that did meet a lot of the needs of the customers that were using that, a lot of the product IT needs that they were able to acquire. With CIO-CS we saw an evolving, enormous change in the IT marketplace when it comes to commoditized services and managed services and cloud services.

We wanted to build a contract that had contract holders that were going to be able to meet those needs as they change. They are changing very, very quickly to be able to not only provide the straight laptops, desktops and hardware equipment; but to be able to buy those more sophisticated software licenses, being able to get the cloud services that they need. They will continue to evolve with mobility and infrastructure services that agencies are looking at.

What makes it different is the contract holders who are able to provide those services. You are going to see some differences in the contract holders who are on the old ECSIII contract versus the new CIO-CS contract. Contract holders really had to prove that they are going to be able to be relevant and meet those ever-changing needs that the government has over the next 10 years.

What are some of the subtle but important changes to the actual structure?

One of the things that was attractive about ECSIII was the ability for contract holders to refresh their technology on a daily basis. That will continue on CIO-CS. On Day One of awarding CIO-CS, there will be almost 20 million contract line item numbers already, but as requirements come in from our customers and contract holders are adding new items and new services to the contract, they will be able to continue to do that on a daily basis.

As requests for quotes come out through our system from our customers, contract holders will be able to turn around and get those items on contract that same business day. That will not change. What is going to change is the system.

We have built new systems to be able to provide for our customers and provide our contact holders so that they can put their requirements into a streamlined ordering system. They can very easily post a requirement to our contract holders, quickly turn around bids, and evaluate those bids and ensure that our contract holders are meeting the requirements.

The reporting that is going to be built into that system will be able to support the CIOs in FITARA reporting, as well as to be able to provide all of the basic needs that a customer has when they are making an evaluation as to who to make an award to.

The RFP stresses health IT. Is this contract just a health vehicle? Or is it something more than that?

This vehicle is housed here at the NIH. Of course, we are here to support our NIH customers. We are here to support any agency in HHS and through DoD and many other agencies who have a mission to meet the health needs of our constituents, the taxpayers, and the warfighters, whoever it may be. We have designed this vehicle to ensure that every one of our contract holders can meet those needs specifically.

In addition to that, the contract is built to be able to meet every IT need that the government has. As we structured this program over the past five years that I have been here, it has been strategically thought of. We started out awarding CIO-SP3 with the idea that after that we would be awarding CIO-SP3 Small Business to meet those needs. Now awarding the CIO-CS vehicle to meet those commoditized needs that the government has that range from health IT through every type of IT requirement as well as evolving requirements that come up over the next 10 years. IT evolves on a daily basis.

Our vehicles are intended to change on a daily basis to be able to meet those needs. Part of our process of attracting contract holders that will get awards on these contracts are the ones that are able to evolve over time to meet those ever changing needs and those technologies.

Then again, with our assisted acquisition services we will be able to finish the circle of how we are able to support our customers. Also, to have CIOs that have struggles sometimes trying to get those acquisition needs met in-house at their contracting shops with an overwhelming stress on the contracting community throughout the government and the acquisition community to be able to meet, specifically, those complex IT requirements.

They can come to us and we build ourselves on providing that value and having that reputation and having that trust with our customers, the partnership we are able to develop with our customers to be able to work with them and build a relationship on being able to meet all of these needs.

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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