COMMITS successor to benefit from lessons learned

COMMITS information

The Commerce Department is preparing a solicitation for the successor to its Commerce Information Technology Solutions (COMMITS) governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC).

The new vehicle will give smaller companies a better chance of winning work, and it will incorporate changes in an effort to provide agencies with better value, said Michael Sade, director of Commerce's Office of Acquisition Management.

The first COMMITS contract, designed for small businesses, easily met its $1.5 billion ceiling in five years. The sequel, to be called COMMITS NexGen, will have a higher maximum.

The proposed changes are not final, Sade cautioned. Commerce officials have sent a business case to the Office of Management and Budget and expect to issue a formal solicitation later this month. Several themes emerged as officials considered what was learned through the first COMMITS contract, he said at a meeting of the GWAC special interest group of the Industry Advisory Council.

The follow-on contract will not evaluate a company's teaming arrangement with other firms to determine if the company will win a place on the contract, he said. Judging the capabilities of teams before the companies are hired to solve a specific agency problem does not make sense. "We formed teams around tasks that we had no idea what they were going to be," Sade said of the first COMMITS effort. "What we will evaluate is your capability to build a team. I think that's more important than who are you bringing to the table for unknown tasks."

GWACs have caused uncertainty about the effectiveness of federal small-business programs. Until now, companies that joined a GWAC as a small business could retain that status through the life of the contract, said Linda Williams, associate administrator for government contracting at the Small Business Administration. SBA would like to see small businesses recertify their size annually so they won't continue to receive small-business benefits when they're no longer eligible.

Some businesses outgrow their size status, while others lose it in mergers and acquisitions, said Craig Orfield, a spokesman for the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. SBA's contractor database lists eligible small businesses and may be out of date, he said. Inaccurate information leads to incorrect assessments of whether agencies are meeting small- business goals.

"We see it as a very serious concern, one we've got to address," Orfield said. Sade argues that certification once every three years would be more reasonable. For COMMITS NexGen, he is proposing a tiered system so that the smallest of the small businesses won't have to compete against larger companies. He also plans to judge the larger small businesses partly on their ability and willingness to mentor fledgling firms.

The bigger small businesses often have experience to share with smaller players, he said. "At the large end, you've got a larger pool of past performance."

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