Research Report: The Virtual Public Sector

SEWP prepares for smooth transition to new deal

This is a transition year for NASA’s venerable Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP) government-wide acquisition contract, with the fifth iteration set to start up on Nov. 1.

Expectations are high for the contract, which began life in 1993 relatively low down on the government procurement ladder, but has since grown into one of the largest, and certainly one of the most innovative, government IT purchasing vehicles.

There will be changes from SEWP IV to SEWP V, but the essentials, such as the product catalogs, are expected to remain much the same. That continuity should lead to a smooth hand over from one to the other, people feel.

“SEWP IV has been a viable and well-used contract and a very diverse one as far as meeting IT products and services needs, and that’s not changing,” said Donna Norris, SEWP IV program manager at PCMG, who has managed the current version of SEWP for the company since it began. The company itself has been on SEWP from the start.

Agency buyers don’t have to hang on to funding as the fiscal year comes to an end, in expectation that the next contract will provide substantially better products and terms, she said. They can still spend on SEWP IV for their current IT needs, and know they can exercise option years beyond the end of the contract using that funding, and then think about SEWP V for future needs.

It was a similarly smooth handover from SEWP III, she said, and she has “no reason to expect” it will be different this time.

That might not have been the case if the SEWP program office had held to its original timeline for SEWP V. Under that, the SEWP IV ordering period was due to end on April 30 this year. That could have thrown a major wrench into buyers’ plans, given that many agencies don’t ramp up their spending on IT until after then.

That could also have had a huge impact on SEWP’s own performance. Fiscal 2013 had been SEWP’s busiest year for new orders and modification of existing orders before the ordering period on SEWP IV was extended earlier this year to the end of October. The total amount expected to go through SEWP IV is expected to top $2.5 billion, and in recent years agencies have been using the contract more towards the end of the fiscal year than they did in the past.

The extension provided a “really easy answer” to all of the questions from customers and contract holders about what would happen if the old timeline was kept, according to Joanne Woytek, SEWP program manager.

“It would have been a very difficult transition if it had happened in May,” she said. “[This extension] allows people to get everything they need with SEWP IV before the end of the fiscal year, and everyone will have time to start getting used to things before SEWP V begins Nov. 1.”

And, when SEWP V does start up, people will find the changes are incremental from SEWP IV, she said. Nothing is being taken away, and the only thing people will notice is that they have more options with the new contract.

“We’ll be taking a lot of time next year teaching people what those options are, what the contract scope changes are, and so on,” she said. “I think it’s the best possible transition.”

There will be several noticeable changes. Users will have broader access to product-based services, for example, and the processing fee that users pay will be included in the product price. There will no longer be an option for it to be separate from the price, which Woytek said caused confusion. The starting fee for SEWP V will also “definitely be lower” than the 0.45 percent on SEWP IV, she said, but the actual number has not yet been decided.

Contract holders will also be getting more support from the SEWP contract office, which will be important given the expected hike in the number of companies that will be awarded contracts. SEWP IV has 38 contract holders now, and they are assisted by several dedicated contract holder relationship managers. That number has been raised to four for the run-up to SEWP V. The overall customer service staff in the program office is now over 40.

More than anything, it’s this focus on customer relations—both the agency buyers and industry—that has set SEWP apart from most other government GWACs. Both Woytek and her deputy spend large swathes of their time with the SEWP customer base, and changes to the program reflect what they have been hearing directly from their customers.

SEWP has also set the bar in terms of how they deal with contract holders. Modifications to orders, which on other vehicles can take days or even weeks, are often turned around on SEWP in minutes. It’s unusual, according to contract holders themselves, if modification approvals are not returned by the end of the day they are submitted.

Expect those kinds of innovations to continue, Woytek said.

“We’ve always had the view that we’re here to make life easier for the agencies that come to us, and to as much as possible provide things for them so they don’t have to do it themselves,” she said. In that way, SEWP “is an always evolving contract.”