A major federal acquisition opportunity with a potential contract value of US$50 billion for information technology vendors is back on track. The General Services Administration recently resumed processing vendor applications after a legal challenge to the contract was resolved in its favor.
As a result, the GSA this fall will reveal the names of approximately 60 vendors who will be eligible to participate in the Alliant 2 IT contract vehicle. The program is notable not only for the money involved, but also for a major contracting change designed to facilitate business opportunities for IT vendors.
Under the contract, vendors will be able to provide a broad range of IT capabilities to multiple federal agencies.
The scope of work is designed to provide agencies with maximum flexibility in acquiring an IT services-based solution, according to GSA, encompassing existing technologies as well as leading-edge capabilities and virtually any future developments in IT. Components will include email, cloud, cybersecurity, networks, Internet of Things, and big data.
Once chosen for the Government Wide Acquisition Contract, or GWAC, vendors will be eligible to gain business by participating in numerous task order projects for federal agencies.
All potential providers completed the submission of their bids to GSA in 2016. The contract involves a five-year base period of performance, with an option to extend the duration for five more years.
Focus on IT
The Alliant 2 contract appears to address strong complaints raised by IT vendors that a major procurement vehicle used by agencies in recent years put too much emphasis on cost savings while largely ignoring significant technical quality differences among bids and contractors. Under the “lowest price technically acceptable” (LPTA) method, agencies focused provider selections on cost, as long as the vendor displayed a minimum technical competency.
GSA specifically ruled out the LPTA method with Alliant 2. Instead, GSA appeared to flip the LPTA concept around and instead focused on vendor quality with a selection criteria based on “highest technically rated, with fair and reasonable price.”
What that means is that under Alliant 2, GSA first will rank vendors using a quality rating scale for various categories of IT and organizational competency. Then, after developing a list of qualified vendors, GSA will assess whether the prices are fair and reasonable.
The goal of selecting at least 60 vendors is designed to ensure competition for individual task order projects, according to GSA.
The Alliant 2 vehicle embraces an “innovative evaluation methodology,” according to Mary Davie, assistant commissioner for IT at the Federal Acquisition Service, a unit within GSA.
Alliant 2 “achieves best value” for the government under provisions of the Federal Acquisition Regulations, “by identifying offerors with the most relevant technical expertise who propose fair and reasonable pricing,” she noted.
“Our goal is to create comprehensive IT solutions available from the very best companies,” Davie said.
GSA’s Legal Win
The Alliant 2 contract clearly restores technical quality as a significant factor in vendor selection. Four IT companies had filed a legal protest that focused on the pricing mechanisms GSA proposed to use for the contract. The Alliant 2 vehicle failed to adequately consider the cost to the government, their complaint asserted. The protest was adjudicated by the federal General Accountability Office, which functions as an arbitration board for protests of federal contracts.
GAO ruled that GSA’s Alliant 2 pricing criteria was based on substantive criteria, because it included specific components such as labor rates for more than 30 types of skills as well as consideration of other costs. The protest group had argued that the standard was a superficial, or nominal, element. GAO ruled that GSA acted well within the range of permissible contract pricing options under federal law. GSA met standards for meeting competition requirements by providing participation to an adequate number of vendors, GAO also said.
The GAO ruling is important not only for Alliant 2 but also for future contracting, as it “affects IT acquisitions significantly,” GSA’s Davie said.
“This decision changes the paradigm of how the government has traditionally conducted price and cost analysis,” said John Cavadias, GSA’s senior contracting officer for the Alliant 2 program.
“It provides the precedent for innovation across the government during the source selection process,”he told the E-Commerce Times. “This could also result in a significant time savings — with shorter procurement lead times.”
The Alliant 2 vendor selection process should come “as a breath of fresh air” for most contractors, said Aisha Mian, managing consultant at Aronson.
“Especially for contractors in the IT industry, where innovation is constantly taking place, the LPTA environment has to be tough. It has to be difficult for IT contractors to bid their best technical capabilities with their best people at a price that is expected to be low enough to remain competitive,” she told the E-Commerce Times.
“Not only do contractors have the desire to use their best people — they want to be able to retain them for the value they are worth,” said Mian. “This is a major key to continuing success within the industry, and I think this source selection process will open the door for contractors to still remain competitive while using their most highly skilled workforce.”
The Alliant 2 contract built on GSA’s experience with the OASIS program.
“With this more innovative source selection approach, contractors can confidently focus on providing the best IT solutions with the best talent,” Mian pointed out.
“By using the highest technically rated fair and reasonable approach on both OASIS and now Alliant 2, GSA has let industry pricing know they’ve been heard on the subject of LPTA,” she said. “It is evident they now want the most highly qualified bidders. I don’t see it being long before other government agencies begin to follow suit after they see that this approach may even save more time in the evaluation process rather than say, a tradeoff source selection process.”
The Federal Buzz: Contractor IT Security Rules; Cybersecurity Feedback
DHS Security Proposal: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has proposed an upgrade of security rules covering contractor responsibilities for protecting government information in DHS contracts with IT providers and other businesses. DHS is seeking industry comment on the proposals by March 20.
The proposals cover information security training for contractor personnel, especially related to “personally identifiable information” and “sensitive personally identifiable information.” DHS also issued a proposal designed to ensure that “controlled unclassified information” is covered by contract acquisition regulations.
The training component is referenced as HSAR Case-2015-003 and the CUI reference is HSAR Case 2015-0001 in the Jan. 19 Federal Register notice.
U.S. Seeks Cybersecurity Feedback: The National Institute of Standards and Technology is seeking comment from the business community and other interested organizations on the latest version of the agency’s “Framework for Improving Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity.”
NIST’s original goal was to develop a voluntary framework to help organizations manage cybersecurity risk in the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as transport and electric power, but the initiative has been adopted widely in the business and governmental communities.
The update provides new details on managing cyber-supply-chain risks, clarifying key terms, and introducing measurement methods for cybersecurity. The updated framework aims to further develop NIST’s voluntary guidance to organizations on reducing cybersecurity risks. Comments to [email protected] will be accepted through April 10.