RFC on tap for $50 million remote sensing, imaging pact

The Forest Service expects to release a request for comments this summer for an estimated $50 million Remote Sensing and Image Processing contract, which is the second contract under the agency's Project 615 Geographic Information System (GIS) program.

Government shutdowns and the budget impasse put the Forest Service about five months behind schedule on the remote-sensing project, according to Stan Bain, program leader for operations at the Forest Service's Remote Sensing and Application Center, which now has the lead role in the procurement.

The procurement was transferred from the Information Systems and Technology group this month, after Bain left to join the RSA Center. However, the IST group is still responsible for Project 615, an umbrella contract that will allow the Forest Service to do multiple procurements under the same authority. So far only one award, a $276 million contract to IBM Federal, has been made under Project 615.

Under the Remote Sensing and Image Processing procurement, the Forest Service will acquire standardized software modules for up to 900 field offices nationwide that will process digital data and information acquired through different remote sensors and satellites. Data collected will be used to produce GIS analysis products to support such things as ecosystems management.

Under the contract, field offices will be able to buy different modules and tools based on specific capabilities needed to support their work.

Logic Behind Modular Approach

"It's important to modularize the technology so a site that needs technology doesn't have to buy all the bells and whistles if they don't need them," Bain said. And offering standard modules is cost-effective. "If someone transfers from one region to another, it will be the same system, and they won't have to learn to use a new one."

Software modules will include basic and advanced image processing and "soft copy," or digital photogrammetry, capabilities. However, vendors may recommend different modules that could, in turn, be incorporated in the request for proposals, Bain said.

Individual modules will need to interoperate with each other and must also support the same graphical user interface and other products supplied under the IBM contract, which includes Unix-based RS/6000 servers and workstations and Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI) GIS software.

The Forest Service receives various kinds of remotely sensed data that provides information on snow accumulation, changes in global vegetation and deforestation, coastal and waterway topography and erosion, and forest fire potential and fire detection. "Remote sensing is an additional tool to mesh with GIS," Bain said.

The contract, which Federal Sources Inc. estimates to be around $50 million, will be open to the rest of the Agriculture Department. Bain said he hopes a contract award can be made by the end of next year.

Environmental Research Institute of Michigan is "very anxious to see the final RFP to see if we'll be able to be competitive," said Larry Reed, manager of the environmental information technologies department at ERIM. "We have unique algorithms that would be used in remote-sensing activities, such as our change detection" algorithm.

John Steffenson, the Forest Service's project manager for ESRI, a subcontractor on the IBM contract, said the company is interested in remote sensing "in terms of what the selected solution would be," but he added that the company is not likely to bid on the contract.

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