NASA launches SEWP II buy worth $1 billion

NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center last week launched a four-year, $1 billion procurement for Unix workstations, peripherals and networking gear that will be open to the entire government on an unprecedented scale.

Due for award this year, the Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement (SEWP) II pact will offer up to 34,000 workstations to government buyers.

SEWP II will provide a wider range of products to more government buyers than its predecessor, SEWP I. SEWP I was closed to non-NASA customers in late 1994 after heavy purchasing by them.

But in the case of SEWP II, nine civilian agencies will have individual buying limits on the contract. "We've built sufficient [delegations of procurement authority] so that we believe we won't run out," said Skip Kemerer, chief of ADP procurement at Goddard.

Other agencies will be able to buy from the contract, although they will be limited to 20 percent of the total volume.

Greater availability to non-NASA customers, plus more bidding categories, means the contract will appeal to vendors. Because SEWP II is open to a large volume of non-NASA purchases, "it's attractive to our company," said Kevin Sullivan, federal channel manager for Cisco Systems Inc.

"People want a larger vehicle that's easier to use than the GSA schedule," Sullivan said. "Contracting officers from other agencies feel good about SEWP. It's a very well-managed contract with good people involved in it."

Vendors can bid for parts of the SEWP II contract, such as networking, or certain classes of workstations or mass-storage devices. All the major workstation vendors—Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Digital Equipment Corp., IBM Corp. and Silicon Graphics Inc.—are expected to bid on SEWP II as well as Unisys Corp. and Government Technology Services Inc., both of which are primes on SEWP I.

John Leahy, group manager of strategic market development and government affairs at Sun Microsystems Federal Inc., said, "It looks like there could be 15 [to] as many as 20 contracts" awarded under SEWP II. SEWP I had nine awards.

Kemerer said SEWP II will offer more classes of workstations and "greater overlap between contracts" to foster competition between vendors throughout the life of the contract.

NASA is hoping "the vendors can give us the best price and still keep giving us new technology," Kemerer said. Because of the volume of orders expected under SEWP II, "I think they're going to be aggressively priced," he added. "What we really want is really good pricing."

This strategy was successful for NASA with SEWP I. "SEWP I was excellent for government because it provided continuing competition for technology and pricing over the period of the contract," Leahy said.

"Current pricing, current technology and ease of ordering were the three key elements that excited other agencies to use SEWP," said Cheryl Post, marketing manager for SEWP at Unisys.

However, one vendor representative, who asked not to be named, questioned whether NASA will get deep discounts on SEWP II. "It's as if NASA wants to hold a GSA schedule for workstations," he said. "If it's going to be an open-market kind of procurement, the discounts are likely to be more in line with what you offer on a GSA schedule. I don't think the pressure is going to be there to be competitive as you would be in a more restricted procurement."

Besides NASA, the agencies participating in SEWP II are the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, the General Services Administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the departments of Commerce, Interior, Justice, Treasury and Transportation.

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