Desktop V delayed

The Air Force postponed the award of its $1 billion-plus Desktop V PC contract until April, after winnowing down the list of bidders to offerors who made the "competitive range" cut.

Despite the delay, the Air Force Standard Systems Center (SSC) wants to keep the program on a fast track, telling bidders in a letter last week that it expects to receive best and final offers Feb. 12.

All the major bidders on Desktop V survived the first-round cut, according to an FCW survey.

"There had to be some small guys out there who bid that did not make the list," one industry observer said. Bidders who survived the Desktop V cut include Electronic Data Systems Corp., offering its own line of PCs as well as systems from Compaq Computer Corp.; Government Technology Services Inc. (GTSI) , bidding Hewlett-Packard Co. PCs; Hughes Data Systems Inc., offering Micron/Zeos hardware; International Data Products Corp. (IDP) , bidding its own line of equipment; NCR Corp. (formerly AT&T GIS) ; Sysorex Information Systems Inc., which offered IBM Corp. PCs; and Zenith Data Systems (ZDS), offering its own brand PCs.

The Air Force plans to make three contract awards—two to companies bidding under the "full and open competition" rules and one small-business set-aside—with all three winners then competing for orders.

George Fuster, president of IDP, said his company submitted bids for the small-business set-aside portion of the contract as well as the full and open competition. Fuster said, "We are looking to win the full and open. We believe we had the highest technical quality score on the technical side on Desktop IV."

Delay of the Desktop V contract award led to speculation within the industry that the Air Force may seek to extend the Desktop IV contract held by GTSI and ZDS—especially if a threat of a protest looms over Desktop V.

Last year the General Services Administration and Emmett Paige Jr., assistant secretary of Defense for command, control, communications and intelligence, approved the addition of another 100,000 PCs to the Desktop IV contract. Industry and Air Force sources said 50,000 to 60,000 PCs still remain available for ordering.

The Air Force must act quickly to extend the Desktop IV contract because hardware ordering will expire Feb. 3. Sources said SSC has started to survey users and buyers to assess not only their needs but also the time frame in which they plan to submit orders, in an effort to determine whether to extend the Desktop IV contract.

That decision, sources said, will also require some "crystal balling" to decide whether Desktop V will be hit with a protest, which could delay ordering on the contract until July—a month into the traditional Air Force ordering season.

Bob Guerra, vice president of Sysorex Information Systems, said the possibility of a protest depends on "how well they do on clearing up the clarifications they sent out this week." If SSC does its evaluation job well, Guerra predicted the Desktop V award could escape a protest, "and then they would not need DT IV."

Industry sources expect GTSI and ZDS to quietly push for an extension of the Desktop IV contract and probably try to entice the Air Force with technology upgrades that would include a higher-clock-speed Pentium processor.

Desktop V bidders generally expressed surprise that the Air Force decided to delay the award. The Air Force said from the start of the Desktop V procurement that it intended to run a very streamlined procurement and wanted to make awards on initial bids.

Lt. Gen. Charles Franklin, commander of the Air Force Electronics Systems Center, parent organization of SSC, told bidders in a handwritten note appended to the Desktop V request for proposals cover letter that "as we try to respond to industry to shorten source-selection times, one key way to do that is award without discussions. My intent is to do this. Please work your proposals hard."

Franklin may have been close to following through on such a strategy earlier this month but backed off after calling in Air Force counsel Clarence D. "Hugh" Long for talks on the impending awards, industry sources said. Whatever transpired at that meeting, one industry source added, "was enough to make Franklin take a more cautious approach."

Tom Walters, vice president of Hughes Data, said that, in his view, it is "extremely difficult [for the Air Force] to achieve its objective [of an award without discussions] on a program this complex."

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