DHS' sinking SPIRIT

Homeland Security Department officials are retooling the way the agency buys information technology after canceling a proposed multibillion-dollar IT services contract. They intend to focus instead on developing a procurement strategy that they say will be more in line with the agency's mission.

The Security, Planning and Integrated Resources for Information Technology (SPIRIT) program, which agency officials canceled July 30, would have covered nearly all IT services for DHS. After an extensive review of the program, DHS' chief information officer, Steve Cooper, decided to cancel SPIRIT. "It didn't make good sense to continue with SPIRIT," he said.

Industry analysts have begun speculating about what DHS officials will do next. "What I understand they want to do is take a look at indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts that are already out there and then negotiate memorandums of understanding with the selected ones that come closest to matching what they expect," said Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc.

A longer-term strategy will include creating a DHS IT acquisition center of excellence that draws on agencies' procurement and technology expertise, Mather said. Eventually, DHS officials will have their own procurement vehicle, but it almost certainly will not resemble SPIRIT, he said.

"I doubt whether you'll see [another] single vehicle of that size and magnitude all in one," Mather said. DHS officials are more likely to come up with a series of contract vehicles that are tailored to specific market segments, such as software development, systems integration or information assurance, for example.

Mather said the original program had features that were not well suited to DHS. "I don't think [that] anytime you look at [something of] this size, scope and complexity you can ever say one size fits all."

SPIRIT was created in 2002 as a Coast Guard program before it was transferred from the Transportation Department to DHS and elevated to a departmentwide procurement. Originally valued as a $10 billion program for 10 years, it was later reduced to a five-year, $5 billion acquisition. Industry officials had been waiting for a request for proposals since last summer.

Cooper praised the Coast Guard officials who created the SPIRIT program. "Unfortunately, a lot of talented people put a lot of work into it at the Coast Guard," he said. "They should be commended."

David Nadler, a procurement attorney with the law firm Dickstein Shapiro Morin and Oshinsky LLP in Washington, D.C., said it was no great surprise when DHS officials terminated SPIRIT.

"For all intents and purposes, this program was dead months ago as far as I'm concerned," Nadler said. "Agency officials said they were delaying with no end date, no explanation. The writing was clearly on the wall."

Nadler said DHS officials probably realized that some of SPIRIT's functions overlap or duplicate those of other government procurement programs.

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