GSA wants to add SEWP to its plate

Some GSA supporters question whether the timing is right, given the agency’s challenges

The General Services Administration would take over a NASA governmentwide acquisition contract program that specializes in powerful information technology for science and engineering applications, if GSA Administrator Lurita Doan gets her wish.

However, some doubt that the agency could effectively manage the Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement (SEWP) program, a highly specialized multiple-award contract.

Because of GSA’s internal problems, some critics say the agency lacks the credibility to convince customers that it is capable of handling SEWP. But Doan dismissed the criticism and explained her rationale for wanting to move the contract.

“GSA is the premier location for procurement and what we want to do is allow agencies to focus on their core mission,” she said. “NASA’s core mission is not to provide IT products and services to the government and the public.” Handling the contract distracts NASA’s resources from the agency’s primary purpose, Doan said.

Joanne Woytek, NASA’s SEWP program manager, said the GWAC is not a distraction because it is a self-contained program that generates revenue to pay for itself. GSA asked NASA to manage the contract 14 years ago, she added.

GSA schedule contracts and SEWP contracts reach separate niche markets, said Judy Harvell, Unisys’ SEWP III program manager. She said she believes that moving SEWP to GSA would bring no tangible benefits and might turn the specialized contract into a more typical GSA catalog.

SEWP and similar programs focus on particular mission areas for the specific agencies, said Robert Guerra, a partner at consulting firm Guerra Kiviat. As such, they demand a specific competency in acquisitions tailored to those agencies.

“When it comes to commodity-fulfillment contracts, GSA has to have the lead,” Guerra said. “When it comes to agency mission-sensitive contracts, though, I’d leave those to the agency.”

Some analysts said GSA should fix its internal problems before its leaders think about expansion.

“Let’s get your house in order before you start new construction,” said Mark Amtower, a partner at consulting firm Amtower and Co. “GSA’s ability to run a large procurement is, at best, questionable.”

“GSA should concentrate on getting its own programs in better shape rather than trying to take over other programs,” said Steve Kelman, Harvard University professor and former Office of Federal Procurement Policy administrator during the Clinton administration.

Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, said Doan’s proposal is reasonable, but NASA is competent in contracting and must make the decision.

The best course is unclear, Soloway said. If NASA did not want to handle the GWAC, GSA would be the logical home for it, he said.

A similar situation arose in 2004 when the Transportation Department relinquished its Information Technology Omnibus Procurement contract to GSA.

Doan’s ambition proves that SEWP is a success, said Will Henderson, chief executive officer of Sword and Shield Enterprise Security, one of SEWP’s contractors.

That success would make it a boon for GSA, Soloway said. “SEWP would be a really — I’m thinking of the right word for this — a positive for the agency,” he said.

A GSA spokesman said Doan is particularly concerned about the paucity of good contracting officers in the federal government and the importance of not spreading them too thin.

Others, however, say that competition is too important to lose. “I’m a big GSA fan, but I’m not a fan of removing GSA’s competition,” Kelman said. “Just as GSA provides good competition to agency buying shops, the well-run SEWP program provides good competition to GSA.”

GSA falters where NASA excels in customer relationships, said Hope Lane, director of GSA schedule services at Aronson and Co. GSA has a lot of customer relationships to mend. “I don’t know if you can pursue the revenue before the relationships,” Lane said.

Doan said she had not spoken with NASA officials yet, because SEWP is currently requesting authority from the Office of Management and Budget for SEWP IV, a planned new version of the contract. She plans to call NASA soon about the deal but gave no specific time.

“It will be interesting to see if they take the call,” she said.

Does she believe her effort will succeed? “I never say never,” she said.

SEWP ingredients: Workstations, servers and network hardwareNASA envisions its information technology governmentwide acquisition contract, the Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement, as “the premier customer-focused contract vehicle for federal government purchase of IT products,” according to a statement on the SEWP Web site.

The contract’s purpose, according to the statement, is efficient and effective government IT procurement, customer services, vendor relationships, and IT research and monitoring.

Products that agencies can purchase through SEWP include Unix-, Linux- and Microsoft Windows-based workstations and servers, plus peripherals, network equipment, storage devices, security tools and software. The contract program offers more than 400,000 products.

NASA is planning SEWP IV, which its officials anticipate will be popular. In July, the Department of Veterans Affairs chose to steer its customers to SEWP IV rather than issue a new version of its Procurement of Computer Hardware and Software contracts. PCHS-2 will expire in April 2007.

Some SEWP-III contracts, originally set to expire in July, have been extended to January 2007. Other SEWP-III contracts expire in September 2007.

— Matthew Weigelt

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