Small businesses: This project is too big

GSA plans to offer an 8(a) set-aside for a major infrastructure consolidation project

STARS GWAC

The General Services Administration is set to release a request for proposals that would give small businesses a big break. But some small-business owners say the offer to bid as the prime contractor on GSA’s infrastructure support project is beyond their means.

Several 8(a) business officials said they read GSA’s request for information and didn’t seriously consider it because their companies do not have the resources to handle a job that big. They also faulted GSA officials and others who helped develop the proposal for not matching its size and scope to the capacity of small businesses.

GSA published an RFI to determine if small businesses listed on the governmentwide acquisition contract known as 8(a) Streamlined Technology Acquisition Resources for Services (STARS) could handle a task order for the information technology infrastructure project. STARS is a small-business set-aside contract for IT-related work.

In the RFI, GSA estimates the cost of the five-year project will be about $500 million. A centrally managed IT infrastructure would make GSA’s operations more efficient by eliminating incompatible systems and improving reliability, agency officials say.

GSA Administrator Lurita Doan said the project is an enormous opportunity for small businesses.

“Rather than looking at it as something that is too big,” she said, “the minority business community needs to say, ‘Our time has come.’”

Responses to the RFI were due July 13. GSA received 94 responses from STARS businesses and five from Historically Underutilized Business Zone companies, which also received the RFI notice, said Michael Carleton, GSA’s chief information officer.

The CIO’s office has managed GSA’s wide-area network and e-mail servers, but GSA’s major operating divisions run their own IT services and support operations, according to the RFI. GSA’s proposed infrastructure project would end that arrangement by creating a centrally managed infrastructure for IT services and support.

The RFI also states that GSA wants to transform other aspects of the agency, including its contract management activities and functional alignment. GSA provides IT services for about 16,500 agency associates and contractors worldwide.

The STARS contract exists to give small businesses more opportunities to sell their services. Some small-business owners listed as STARS contractors say they have worked out scenarios in which they could bid on the infrastructure project. But others say bidding on the proposal is out of the question.

Ravi Bhutani, president of Computer Integration and Programming Solutions, said the RFI is too big for his company. “I can play, but I can’t play that big,” he said.

Bhutani praised GSA officials for selecting STARS to give small businesses an opportunity to bid on the project. But he said he has to consider future reviews of his company’s past performance in deciding whether to pursue the contract. Winning such a large contract might jeopardize his performance record, he said.

Other small-business officials suggested that GSA break the proposed task order into smaller pieces. Bruce Chang, director of Efficiency System Technology, said he believes 8(a) companies are qualified to do the job, but he thinks GSA should let small businesses join together to bid on the contract.

Breaking down such large contracts would be the best way to help small businesses, said Richard Rea, president of R. Rea Corp., an 8(a) high-tech services company. Rea said he responded to the RFI because he has the experience to do the work. When he is given a large contracting opportunity, Rea said, his strategy is to find a business partner — maybe another 8(a) company — and go after the contract.

Rea said small companies often can do a better job than the big companies because small businesses would pay closer attention to details. But GSA officials might not see the benefits of dividing large contracts, he said. Doing so might create more work for GSA because it would need to oversee more than one company.

Large companies are typically the prime contractors on GSA’s nationwide procurements. They hire subcontractors — often small businesses — to handle the work in regional offices.

“The only difference is we’re giving the minority business the opportunity to be that prime,” Doan said.

GSA wants to consolidateThe General Services Administration said it needs a centrally managed information technology infrastructure so the agency can become more efficient. In a recent request for information, GSA indicated that it seeks to:

  • Eliminate incompatible systems and improve the reliability of operations.

  • Standardize operations across geographic and organizational boundaries and streamline its contract management activities and functional alignment.

  • Transition to centrally managed IT infrastructure support services that would include help-desk, knowledge management, asset management, report generation and automated installation services.

  • Support older applications while making the transition to consolidated IT infrastructure support services.

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