Services job joins pending $200M pact to replace NOAVA

The Department of Veterans Affairs late last month kicked off a support services buy that will accompany a $200 million computer equipment solicitation already under way. The two contracts will replace the agency's $298 million Nationwide Office Automation for the VA (NOAVA) program.

The request for comments for the Procurement of Automated Information Resources Solutions (PAIRS) was issued Jan. 24. Last fall the VA issued an RFC for the Procurement for Computer Hardware and Software (PCHS, pronounced "peaches"), estimated to be worth about $200 million.

A letter to vendors from VA contracting officers Judith Sterne and Marilyn Martin said the agency had not yet received a delegation of procurement authority for PAIRS. VA officials were not available last week to discuss the value of the contract, but delegations of procurement authority are required only for contracts worth $100 million or more.

Nada Harris, the VA's deputy assistant secretary for information resources management, said she hoped PAIRS would pave the way for the department to migrate from some of its proprietary systems. "We view PAIRS as a strategic contract for VA—increasing our reliance on more cost-effective, commercial solutions and providing us a vehicle for migrating off nonstandard, home-built legacy systems," she said.

The VA will award PAIRS contracts to three vendors, including one small-business set-aside. The three will compete for work as requirements arise. The RFC said VA personnel will first evaluate potential vendors based on "past performance, corporate capabilities, corporate approach to problem solving and pricing." The VA will then ask vendors still deemed acceptable to submit proposals in response to specific task orders.

PAIRS vendors will perform tasks ranging from site surveys and systems analysis to software engineering, systems integration and networking services. The VA also said the winning vendors will provide "all hardware and/or software necessary" to complete tasks.

Observers speculated that the VA chose to issue separate solicitations for equipment and services to avoid problems that plagued NOAVA in its early years. Users complained that equipment bought through NOAVA was overpriced, and officials at NOAVA contractor Lockheed Integrated Solutions Co. said prices were somewhat higher because the company offered support services along with the equipment it sold.

James DeWire, vice president for NOAVA at Lockheed, said he believes VA-unique requirements drove up the price of the equipment. But he added that the perception still exists within the VA that services drive up the price of equipment. "I get the feeling they think they can get better pricing on hardware and software if they split it from services."

An industry source who requested anonymity questioned whether PAIRS' requirements for hardware and software would conflict with similar requirements in the PCHS RFC. She said vendors may be discouraged from bidding on PAIRS if doing so will compete with PCHS.

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