$300M contract will test limits of 8(a) capabilities

Some think GSA’s IT infrastructure contract could be a boon for small businesses

Information on draft proposal

After winning the General Services Administration’s Infrastructure Technology Global Operations (GITGO) Acquisition Initiative — a $300 million, five-year deal — the owner of one 8(a) company will wake up early next year and realize that the firm has suddenly become a much bigger company.

GSA is expected to award the contract in February 2007 to an 8(a) company listed on its Streamlined Technology Acquisition Resources for Services (STARS) governmentwide acquisition contract. GITGO will centralize GSA’s entire information technology infrastructure and create an agencywide IT management framework.

The proposed contract is a 100 percent set-aside for an 8(a)-certified small business. Business analysts say GSA’s set-aside decision surprised large systems integrators as much as it did small businesses. The contract has prompted small companies to team with large partners for a chance to win the contract.

“This is the king-maker,” said Randall Hoover, vice president of business development at the 8(a) systems integration company SoftConcept. “It’s like winning the lottery.”

If GITGO succeeds, it could help the small-business community move into areas that were once exclusive to giant integrators. Some analysts have concluded that such a leap is possible. “It’s evolution,” Hoover said.

But no one knows if a small business can hit all of the contract’s milestones on time and within budget.

According to a draft request for proposals, GSA envisions the creation of an IT infrastructure that aligns with industry best practices. A centrally managed IT infrastructure is a major component in making GSA’s IT operations more efficient.

“We want to leverage the knowledge and experience you guys already have and take us to the next level,” said Mike Seckar, GSA’s director of enterprise infrastructure operations. He spoke at a recent GITGO conference and networking event for small-business owners.

GSA is offering small businesses a contract opportunity that could open many doors in the future, industry officials say. “This could be the watermark” if GITGO proves to other agencies that small businesses can handle large-scale projects, said Guy Timberlake, chief executive officer of the American Small Business Coalition. Timberlake said small businesses are better informed and more sophisticated than they were five or 10 years ago.

Andrew Langer, manager of regulatory policy at the National Federation of Independent Business, said that if small businesses can deliver what GSA wants, they could earn the right to compete for contracts from the Defense and Homeland Security departments. Those contracts usually go to large contractors. “There’s a risk that has to be taken,” Langer said. “We all have to have a little faith in this.”

The danger, however, is that small businesses might not deliver. “Small business could get a major black eye on this,” said Mark Amtower, a federal marketing consultant and founding partner of Amtower and Co.

He said small companies will need leadership assistance from experienced program managers at midsize or large companies. Although 8(a) firms have worked on large projects, they have never been the team leaders on those projects, Amtower said.

Some owners who see mega-bucks ahead might discover mega-horrors, he added. Winning the GITGO contract might seem like hitting the lottery, Amtower said, but many lottery winners file for bankruptcy within two years.

GSA officials have said they want the job done in a year. Amtower said that can’t happen, but then he corrected himself. “There’s not a precedent for it,” he said.

GITGO: Savings from the get-goThe General Services Administration said it intends to restructure the way information technology support services are delivered within the agency by consolidating contracts that currently provide support for general-purpose desktop computing, networking, messaging and mobile/remote access services under the 8(a) Streamlined Technology Acquisition Resources for Services governmentwide acquisition contract.

GSA said the restructuring will allow it to continue improving the cost-effectiveness, security and reliability of its IT infrastructure. It said the approach emulates commercial best practices and conforms to the Office of Management and Budget’s recommendations for federal organizations of similar size and scope.

— Matthew Weigelt

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