The Chief Information Officer-Commodity Solutions (CIO-CS) governmentwide acquisition contract — the newest contract vehicle from the National Institutes of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) — went live May 1 and saw an immediate response from agencies.

CIO-CS received 10 orders within the first two hours — not unheard of for a NITAAC GWAC but a good early indicator, according to Program Director Robert Coen.

The initial rollout has been smooth, Coen said, largely due to a lot of work on the front end that enabled the program office to avoid a wave of protests, which has become the norm for many contract awards.

"Strong partnerships and including industry in the process from two years out right through to award was very, very important," he said. "It's really something that helped build a strong acquisition, a strong [request for proposal]."

The program office maintained lines of communication throughout the process in an attempt to keep it open and transparent.

"We did debriefings and explained in detail where the shortfalls were on those proposals that did not make it," Coen said. "Setting the right expectations with industry about what the requirements are to get an award on these types of contracts makes the source selection process a lot smoother."

Some protests were lodged after the first-round cutoff; however, NITAAC was able to settle those issues early on with the Government Accountability Office and the companies themselves.

"We didn't see any issues after the second round," Coen said. "And that goes to the credit of the contracting staff here at NIH and making sure industry understood where they fell short and why they weren't getting an award and they accepted that."

NITAAC also worked with its government customers on existing contracts to help facilitate the roll over from ESCIII, the predecessor to CIO-CS.

Ultimately, 65 companies were awarded contracts, with 68 percent qualifying as small businesses. Of the 44 small businesses to win contracts, six are designated 8(a), six are service-disabled veteran-owned, seven are economically disadvantaged women-owned, eight are HUBZone and 14 are women-owned.

Prior to the awards announcement, Coen said his goal was for at least 60 percent of contracts to go to small businesses.

Operating out of NIH, the GWAC primarily focuses on providing technology solutions for health care agencies, though the vehicle is open to any government entity for any IT need.

"Our vision was to create a strong suite of contracts which meet the IT needs of not only NIH, but the entire federal landscape," said Diane Frasier, director of NIH's Office of Acquisition and Logistics Management and head of the Contracting Activity.

NITAAC is also going through the Carnegie Mellon Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) assessment program, which measures process efficiency and adherence to best practices. Coen said he expects the assessment will be completed by the end of the year, making it the first GWAC to obtain a level-three CMMI certification, if successful.