NIH readies services contract follow-on

The National Institutes of Health last week confirmed that it will recompete its Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIOSP) contracts, with a plan to award new pacts before the current ones expire in August 2001.

Leamon Lee, NIH's associate director for administration, said he wants a new vehicle in place early "so the customer will know there is the same type of vehicle or an improved one.''

Awarded in 1996 to 20 teams, CIOSP offers federal agencies a wide range of information technology services.

Meanwhile, according to some vendors, a new set of contracts might be better positioned to compete with other governmentwide vehicles, such as the Transportation Department's Information Technology Omnibus Procurement (ITOP) II.

Vendors said last week that some agency customers recently have turned to contracts other than CIOSP to award large, multiple-year task orders. Although that shift has not cost the vendors business yet because they hold indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts with other agencies, vendors want to keep CIOSP as an option.

"When I talk to my customers, they talk about [needing a contract] that can do a base year and four option years,'' said Jeffrey Westerhoff, the CIOSP program manager with SRA International Inc. But a Federal Acquisition Regulation limits the duration of tasks that agencies can issue on expiring contracts.

Marie Monsees, NIH's program director for CIOSP, explained that tasks structured around a set of renewable option periods cannot be extended more than a year beyond the expiration date of a contract. A task that is set for a definite length of time is not so restricted.

When the original ITOP was recompeted last year, ahead of schedule, it was close to exceeding its $1.13 billion contract ceiling. The new ITOP-II contracts are good for up to seven years. That makes CIOSP less competitive, suggested Westerhoff, whose company also holds an ITOP-II contract.

Art Bennett, the CIOSP program manager with Universal Hi-Tech Development, said he has had only one customer recently who "chose to use another vehicle because it provided an opportunity to have an additional year of funding.'' UHD still got the business, although Bennett declined to discuss the details, saying the deal may not be completed yet.

Nevertheless, Bennett said having a longer-term contract is "always an advantage," adding that his company has done well with CIOSP, capturing $70 million in business in the past two and a half years. "We're quite pleased, not only with our performance but [with the fact] that customers are happy dealing with NIH as well.''

According to Jay Jones, who runs the CIOSP program for OAO Corp., customers "are looking a little more long-range now. They're not funding year to year.''

Lee said such questions are not "what's driving me,'' adding that he mainly is concerned about whether NIH has enough time to "put a good vehicle together'' and get it in place. "Customers are concerned [about] whether there is going to be a mechanism for continuation.''

Lee said CIOSP has not yet reached its $11 billion spending limit. To date, agencies have spent $550 million through the contract, although Monsees said the total value of the task orders is higher.

Lee said he wants to make some changes to the existing contracts, including adding provisions that allow vendors to enter into leasing deals with agencies. "We've had a lot of requests'' for such provisions, he said.

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