Desktop V award date slips

If you were waiting for the award of the giant Air Force Desktop V PC contract, you will have to wait a while longer. The Air Force Standard Systems Group, with little advance notice, announced late last week it would not make the award Friday as planned.

Bidders, who have had to face a number of other delays in the award, were dumbfounded. Any further delay in the schedule, they said, will make it difficult for users to assess the offerings from the three potential contract winners in time to place orders during the peak federal summer buying season.

The delay could also affect vendors' ability to deliver product promptly, they said.

In a bare-bones statement posted on its electronic bulletin board system (BBS) and World Wide Web page, SSG said the award date for the full and open competition portion of Desktop V "has been slipped, and the new award date has not been determined.... The program office will provide schedule information immediately when dates become firm."

SSG plans to award two full and open contracts and a contract to a participant of the Small Business Administration's 8(a) program for minority-owned firms.

The award date for the small-business set-aside has slipped from May to June, according to the Air Force's Electronic Systems Center's BBS. ESC said the slippage was due to "calendar conflicts."

This abrupt change flummoxed bidders who believed Desktop V had received a green light last month from the Source Selection Authority and Lt. Gen. Charles Franklin of ESC, SSG's parent command.

One frustrated bidder, who had planned to spend last Friday in champagne-soaked celebration, moaned, "I can't believe it. I just can't believe it.... And I don't have any idea why they did it."

This is the second serious delay to hit the Desktop V program this year. SSG planned for a January award, but that month it asked bidders to submit best and final offers, extending the due date on those offers from Feb. 12 to March 5.

Bidders vying for the rich PC prize, worth an estimated $1.4 billion, warned that users will suffer from the latest delay, especially if the award is hit with a protest, which would push ordering close to the summer.

George Fuster, president of International Data Products Corp.—which bid on both the full and open and the 8(a) contracts—said, "The delay will create problems for the Air Force and the vendors. It will give users less time to plan large buys and could create a backlog that would put a burden on the winners."

Several bidders on the Desktop V contracts believe it has become a price shootout, based on how ESC handled the recent award of the Air Force workstation contract to Hughes Data Systems and Sun Microsystems Inc.

"The Air Force may talk `value,' " one Desktop V bidder said, "but the workstation award shows price was heavily weighted. Hughes [which bid Digital Equipment Corp. workstations] and Sun were the absolutely lowest bidders."

IDP is the only company FCW has been able to identify as bidding the 8(a) contract.

Bidders on the full and open competition, in addition to IDP, are:

* Electronic Data Systems Corp., offering its own line of PCs plus systems from Compaq Computer Corp.

* Government Technology Services Inc., bidding Hewlett-Packard Co. PCs.

* Hughes Data, offering PCs from Micron and systems from Digital.

* NCR Corp., offering its own line of products.

* Sysorex Information Systems Inc., bidding IBM Corp. PCs.

* Zenith Data Systems, which bid its own products.

GTSI and Zenith held the lucrative Desktop IV contract that closed out earlier this year. Zenith sold about 205,000 PCs on Desktop IV, and GTSI sold about 160,000.

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