Two buys kick off year

The National Institutes of Health is moving on two of four procurements that will replace a controversial computer system and eventually take NIH into distributed computing by fiscal 1997.

NIH last month released a request for proposals for a support services contract for the estimated $415 million program called Computer Equipment, Resources and Technology Acquisition for NIH (CERTAN), a project that will replace NIH's biomedical, statistical and administrative computer systems.

Earlier it released a draft RFP on CERTAN's Corporate Computing Systems, a procurement that will upgrade and replace NIH's mainframe computers and software. Both acquisitions are planned to be awarded this fiscal year, with the other two procurements—one for distributed networking and another for supercomputing—to be awarded in fiscal 1997. The systems will be managed and operated by NIH's Division of Computer Research and Technology (DCRT), which provides NIH's 22 institutes, centers and divisions (ICDs) with scientific and technological support.

"We're trying to provide the institutes and centers with a global source of IT services," said Perry Plexico, CERTAN's program manager. "That's something that's never been done before."

CERTAN will replace the controversial Total Systems contract, which was awarded to IBM Corp. in 1988. That contract, worth an estimated $800 million over 10 years (although the amount spent on it will fall far short of that), drew criticism from vendors who claimed NIH had skewed the project toward IBM by requiring that only one vendor provide the full range of hardware, software and services. That requirement could only be met by IBM, vendors argued.

In 1991 the General Accounting Office concluded that NIH awarded the contract to IBM without adequate competition. The GAO report prodded NIH to begin the process of recompeting the project two years before it had planned.

This time, however, CERTAN has been designed to "ensure competition in all areas," Plexico said.

NIH brought in the General Services Administration's Federal Computer Acquisition Center (Fedcac) to identify requirements for the corporate computing system, the distributed networking and the supercomputing contracts. The Navy's Fleet Industrial Supply Center (FISC) handled the support services contract.

Also, NIH procurement officials met numerous times with vendors and ICD information resource management officers to determine their needs.

"We've tried to make this as open a process as possible," said John Dickson, chief of the high-performance scientific section in NIH's computing facilities branch and coordinator of the procurement efforts between NIH, Fedcac and FISC.

The contracts will be indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity. The NIH institutes and centers will have the option to choose what services they want from the contracts or continue to pursue their own contracts with suppliers.

NIH also may make multiple awards on the support services contract, requiring vendors to compete with one another to offer the least expensive and best services.

This way, vendors and NIH headquarters "will have to make them attractive to the institutes," a vendor familiar with the project said.

The support services contract will most likely draw the most interest from ICDs. Under the support services contract, basic tasks such as a help desk, training, technical assessment, networking support and software development, and maintenance will be offered. The contract requires nearly 5 million labor-hours over the five-year life of the contract.

Vendors said to be interested in bidding the contract include Computer Sciences Corp., Science Applications International Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., Orkand Corp. and Vitro Corp.

The corporate computing contract will replace, upgrade or augment the MVS system, which includes three IBM 3090-300J mainframes. The contract includes support services for the system as well.

Those interested in bidding on the system include Digital Equipment Corp., IBM Federal and Loral Federal Systems. CSC and PRC Inc. have said they are not interested in bidding these contracts.

Details on the two remaining contracts have not been determined.

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