Industry cautious about MOBIS changes

Vendors and consultants are hoping a change in venue and staffing will bring improvements to a popular General Services Administration schedule program that offers agencies information technology management and consulting services.

GSA first issued its solicitation for the Management, Organization and Business Improvement Services (MOBIS) program, which includes services on how to improve the use of IT, in April 1997. By September 1997 GSA had received 300 proposals. At that time, GSA had made 14 awards to firms including Coopers & Lybrand LLP, Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc., Marasco Newton Group Ltd., Atlantic Rim Group Inc., Competitive Technologies Inc. and Quality Circle Institute. By the end of fiscal 1997 GSA had awarded 113 contracts that run five years, after which GSA has the option of renewing each one for another five years.

GSA awarded additional contracts through June. However, GSA is still awarding contracts. "Vendors like it; agencies love it," said Mike Lewis, MOBIS' team leader. "I haven't run into anyone that does not love this schedule."

To help lighten the workload of reviewing proposals, GSA recently moved the management of MOBIS to the new Management Services Center in Auburn, Wash. GSA also made MOBIS an open-season solicitation so that vendors have no deadline for proposals. In the past, vendors would flood the GSA office with proposals at deadline time.

"Many things happened over the last MOBIS cycle," said Linda Rodden, director of GSA schedule programs at federal consulting company Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va. "The solicitation went out, and they got swamped."

The new center will be created out of the Paints and Chemicals Commodity Center and maintain the staff from that center. Federal Sources has heard nothing about what type of training the new MOBIS staff has received, Rodden said. "With the transfer, we're not sure how they're going to react to things," Rodden told a group this month attending a Federal Sources seminar on the new MOBIS solicitation.

But Lewis said the differences between the work the staff was doing as the Paints and Chemicals Commodity Center and now for MOBIS "aren't that great. Most of the stuff that would be all that different is actually handled by the agency."

The Management Services Center has eight contract specialists— almost double the number of staff at the Arlington, Va., Services Acquisition Center— and all the specialists have been trained, Lewis said. He added that the staff positions do not require a detailed technical knowledge.

"Our agencies need to feel confident that if a vendor makes it on the schedule, they are technically competent," he said. "Then when the agency puts out their [request for quotes], they can ask for additional documentation and information.... We just get [vendors] generally approved with baseline qualifications."

But vendors are more concerned with the contract specialists' workload, not their technical expertise. "I think the nature of the problem is they're probably going to get so many [solicitations] at once," said Ron Campbell, project manager at Sherikon Inc. in Chantilly, Va., who attended the seminar.

Vendors are also concerned about the difference between the MOBIS schedule and the IT schedule. "I don't think they're quite ready to take MOBIS as close to IT as it actually goes," according to Rodden.

Several companies proposed IT service solutions for the original solicitation, and they were quickly thrown out, she said. Rodden advised that if a vendor's proposal goes substantially into IT areas, "you need to look at doing an IT contract instead."

Steve Gilroy, vice president at VSE Corp. in Alexandria, Va., said the confusion between the schedules is not unusual. "All [requests for proposals] that are issued by the government have flaws in them; this is no different," Gilroy said. "As you submit [a proposal], you develop a knowledge of what the receiving agency is looking for, and you adjust accordingly."

Lewis made the distinction between the schedules this way: "How I explain it to a layman is: If it involves technical IT work, you can't do it in our [MOBIS schedule]." There might be instances when IT is needed to solve a particular problem within a solution, but it should not be the entire solution, he said.

Lewis pointed out that the solicitation lists "examples that are not appropriate for purchase under this [MOBIS] schedule.... Information technology services including but not limited to IT systems integration, network services, purchase of IT processing, hardware and purchase of IT software development, database planning, development and design, technical writing and technical analysis, re-engineering services, etc. MOBIS was out there first, before IT had pure service providers," he said. "What we're often seeing [when an IT service solution is needed] is some agencies writing [blanket purchase agreements] with vendors from both."

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