NIH preps $100M IT smorgasbord

The National Institutes of Health last week launched a $100 million information technology services and systems program that will be open to all federal agencies.

In doing so, NIH is the latest organization to pitch its contracting office into competition with other agencies, a trend that observers believe will only accelerate as the federal government shrinks.

NIH began prequalifying bidders this month for its Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIOSP) project. The three- to five-year, multiple-award contract will give agencies a procurement vehicle through which they can purchase or outsource IT services, including data center services, IT operations, integration services, telecommuting services, telecommunications, security and services to make computers Year 2000-compliant.

Purchases of hardware and software also will be part of the contract.

"We're gearing this to the CIO as a way to deliver services and systems," said Manny De Vera, CIOSP's program manager. "If a CIO has a Year 2000 problem or is reaching a maximum level on their mainframes, then they come to this, and it is done very quickly.

"When agencies have needs, too often the contract just isn't there," he said. "With this, the contract will already be there, saving [them] months of preparation."

A request for proposals is scheduled for release next month, and awards are expected in September.

Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc., said the CIOSP contract is one more example of how agencies are competing with each other to offer IT services that generate income through fees.

"This has become the nirvana for agencies," he said.

Officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development said they would be interested in any governmentwide contract that encourages competition and drives down prices. Currently, HUD manages the $500 million HUD Integrated Information Processing Services contract, through which it outsources and purchases operations, telecommunications and various IT equipment.

"If [CIOSP] drives down prices, then we certainly would look at it," said Stephen Yohai, chief information officer for HUD.

CIOSP is similar to several other contracts. It is seen by some as the civilian equivalent of the $935 million Defense Enterprise Integration Services (DEIS) contract, which offers Defense Department agencies support services.

Civilian agencies can purchase services from the DEIS contract, but total civilian sales are capped at about 8 percent.

The prime contractors on DEIS will most likely bid on CIOSP, sources said. DEIS' primes include Computer Sciences Corp., BDM Federal Inc., EDS Corp., Unisys Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Information Services.

CIOSP also is similar to the Transportation Department's $1.1 billion Information Technology Omnibus Procurement (ITOP).

Through ITOP, which is expected to be awarded this fall, DOT and other civilian agencies will buy information systems engineering, systems/facilities management and maintenance, and security support services. Hardware and software buys are capped at 25 percent of the total value of service task orders. Industry sources said vendors expected to bid on ITOP—including PRC Inc. and GTE Government Systems as well as some of the DEIS primes—could bid on CIOSP.

De Vera acknowledged that NIH is looking for ways to compete with other agencies but said that CIOSP, DEIS and ITOP "each have a different flavor." DEIS is primarily a DOD contract that precludes hardware and software buys, and ITOP is primarily used for support services, he said.

The potentially large CIOSP contract has some industry sources and observers concerned that NIH may not have the resources to manage what will be large purchases.

"The come-one, come-all solution contract—I just don't see that" happening at NIH, Dornan said.

De Vera disagreed, saying CIOSP will set up a broad permanent structure through which IT services and products can be purchased, reducing the burden of developing individual purchase orders and contracts by creating competition among vendors and federal contracts.

"As I see it, the breadth of the contract requires fewer people," he said.

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