ODIN on the home stretch

Under the Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA (ODIN), agency officials earlier this month awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. a $22 million delivery order for managing desktop computers at the headquarters office.

Six years ago, when NASA turned over responsibility for its desktop computers to Lockheed Martin, seat management was a new and controversial procurement policy. As the agency enters the final phase of its seat-management program, NASA officials are offering positive reviews of a policy that has since fallen out of favor at some agencies.

Seat management typically means that a vendor takes care of all matters related to desktop computers for every employee at a facility. Such programs leave employees free to focus on their core competencies rather than on managing computers or telephones.

"The objectives of the program are finally starting to come to fruition," said Gary Cox, NASA's ODIN program manager. In addition to freeing employees from managing desktop computers, the program is helping officials manage costs, he said. NASA has about 38,000 desktop seats and 60,000 telephone seats. "We have good enough quantities that we get good pricing," Cox said.

Under the 10-year seat-management contract, Lockheed Martin provides communications and infrastructure support and desktop and related services. The contract also covers facsimile and printer services. The company offers additional services and commercial products through catalog sales.

The seat-management program grew out of a procurement trend toward leased computer services that began in 1998. Some industry observers say that seat management has waned because it has too many downsides. But others say the policy is an early form of outsourcing that is more popular than ever.

NASA officials said they have come to terms with the difficult aspects of seat management. "When you have a mission-type agency, with people with workstations and Unix boxes and unique applications, it may be a little more difficult," Cox said.

Meeting NASA's specialized desktop computer needs took considerable work and effort, he added. "Fortunately, we stuck with [ODIN] long enough to where we're starting to figure out how to" meet those needs, Cox said. The program is not the only source of desktop computers at NASA.

Lockheed Martin officials are still happy with the seat-management concept. "Although it is not an innovation anymore, seat management makes sense for customers who are willing to view [information technology] as a service," said Dan Norton, a company vice president. As a procurement policy, seat management promotes standards, volume purchases, easy budgeting and consistent levels of service, he said.

Other industry observers, however, have fewer good things to say about the process. "Seat management has come and gone," said Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a group that represents companies that have negotiated federal supply schedules. Seat-management programs are usually backed by large contracts that tend to shut out small businesses, he said.

Allen also questions whether seat-management contracts are worth the effort required to award them. "I'm skeptical of any agencywide contract of this magnitude — that you'll get everyone to use it," he said. Human nature is such that people think they can get a better deal than someone else, he added.

"They like local management," Allen said. "They want to show that they're valuable and make a contribution. That's endemic. There's not much you can do about it."

He said the most visible example of seat management's failure is the General Services Administration's program. As the federal government's lead procurement agency, GSA awarded a seat-management contract in the same year that NASA officials awarded ODIN. It had a $10 billion ceiling, but unlike ODIN, GSA's contract was seldom used.

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president of and chief knowledge officer at Federal Sources Inc., cited the FBI's Trilogy program and the National Security Agency's Groundbreaker program as examples of viable seat-management contracts. Still, he said, NSA officials are reluctant to expand the scope of work in the second phase of Groundbreaker.

Extending the seat-management concept, other agencies, such as the Treasury Department and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, have hired a single vendor to handle most of their needs for IT support.

As industry observers debate the merits of seat management, NASA officials find themselves sitting squarely in the advocates' camp. When federal managers are faced with licensing software, buying hardware, making systems interoperable and devising a common architecture, the work is never a cinch, Cox said. "It helps to have one entity taking care of it."

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ODIN vendors

The Outsourcing Desktop Initiative for NASA program has seven vendors on the contract, including:

Computer Sciences Corp.

DigitalNet Government Solutions LLC.

Dyncorp Techserv LLC

FDC Technologies Inc.

Lockheed Martin Corp..

OAO Corp.

Science Applications International Corp.

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