NIH considers early follow-on pact

A larger-than-expected volume of sales has prompted the National Institutes of Health to begin early development of a follow-on contract for its governmentwide virtual computer store.

Since appearing on the Internet in January, the 17 vendors who offer PCs, software and peripherals on the NIH Electronic Computer Store have rung up $4 million in sales, half of which have come from agencies outside NIH.

Millions of dollars worth of orders are expected in the upcoming buying season, making it probable that the store will hit its $97 million ceiling long before the two-year, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract ends.

"It's going to be a big year, based on what everybody is telling us," said Manny De Vera, director of the NIH Computer Acquisition Center. "There's an insatiable appetite for PCs out there."

A request for proposals for the follow-on to the Electronic Computer Store is due late this summer. Like other contracts, it will not have a delegation of procurement authority ceiling due to the recently enacted Information Technology Management Reform Act, which repealed the Brooks Act, and the requirement that agencies obtain DPAs from the General Services Administration. NIH procurement officials fear the expected increase in sales will overwhelm the eight staff members who process the Electronic Computer Store orders in NIH's contracting office.

To help spread the administrative work, NIH will team up on the follow-on contract with the Energy Department and an unidentified Defense Department agency. Both agencies will act as full partners with unlimited buying opportunities and administrative responsibilities.

DOE is interested in the partnership because the Electronic Computer Store is lowering prices and cutting administrative costs, said Robert Wilson, a DOE computer specialist. A partnership with NIH also will allow DOE to avoid the 1 percent surcharge agencies must pay on orders made through the store, he said.

The follow-on contract and partnerships indicate how procurement offices governmentwide are trying to compete with the GSA multiple-award schedule to remain in business.

"Procurement officers are falling all over themselves to provide the cheapest and best products and services to the end user," he said. "That's wonderful because it's fostering competition.

"My only concern is that with these contracts, vendors have to stick their necks way out and expect a certain volume of sales," he added. "They may have to quote prices based on certain demands that never materialize."

Mike Atlee, general manager of the Government Systems Division of International Computer Networks, an Electronic Computer Store vendor, has seen sales and requests for quotes pick up in the last few weeks. "I think the future looks bright," he said.

Less confident, however, was Norman Chung, vice president of complex systems at McBride and Associates, another store vendor. He said sales have been "coming in dribs and drabs," but he expects sales to increase as more government users become familiar with the Electronic Computer Store.

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