FAA nixes $400M OATS follow-on

The Federal Aviation Administration, recently cut loose from federal procurement regulations, is taking advantage of its new-found freedom by canceling a planned $400 million office automation buy.

The FAA Computer Technology Systems (FAACTS) program, on hold for several months, was planned as an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) contract for commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, software and networking products. It was a follow-on to the Office Automation Technology and Services (OATS) contract, awarded to AT&T in 1989.

Instead of a large IDIQ contract, the FAA will use other governmentwide vehicles and, under its new acquisition system, run its own, more modest procurements as needed, an FAA official said. The FAA now has more flexibility to prequalify vendors, hold pre-award discussions and use other methods to simplify and accelerate the procurement process.

"The advantages of running the large IDIQ contracts that used to be necessary just aren't there anymore," said Tim Carrico, deputy director of information technology at the FAA. The new strategy does not reflect any decline in the FAA's need for new information technology products, he said.

The FAA has identified two key forthcoming vehicles that it intends to tap: the Transportation Department's Information Technology Omnibus Procurement for services and NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement II contract for Unix workstations. The FAA is one of a dozen agencies with procurement authority under SEWP II.

For office automation commodity products, the FAA expects to use the General Services Administration's Advantage program, an electronic commerce system for accessing all the acquisition programs run by GSA's Information Technology Service, including the multiple-award schedule.

But where the FAA needs products or services beyond the scope of these vehicles, the agency will put together its own vehicles. This approach will allow the FAA to tailor procurements more closely to its requirements than a multiple-year IDIQ project such as OATS could, Carrico said. "You still do competitions, but they are much simpler in nature."

The FAA's acquisition strategy "is not unexpected," said Olga Grkavac, vice president of the Systems Integration Division at the Information Technology Association of America. "What it shows is the new flexibility it has" under its acquisition system.

A Sensible Strategy

The strategy makes sense, even outside the FAA-specific acquisition system, industry observers said.

"We anticipated a decline in the number of these agency-specific IDIQ contracts," said Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc., a Vienna, Va.-based market research firm. "The growth in the schedule programs and the governmentwide programs all provide alternative cheaper, easier sources for agencies to solve relatively modest requirements."

The FAA does not need to run a procurements for COTS gear, given all the available alternatives, said one vendor tracking FAACTS. "Those alternatives will probably be more cost-effective than putting out another bid," the vendor said.

Vendors such as Electronic Data Systems Corp., NCR Corp., BTG Inc., Sysorex Information Systems and PRC Inc. have been tracking the FAACTS program for more than a year, but industry sources said vendors had not yet made major investments preparing bids.

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