CIOSP program moves to cutting edge

In an effort to award a governmentwide contract before federal agencies begin the fiscal-year-end shopping spree, the National Institutes of Health last week prequalified 29 vendors for its $100 million Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIOSP) project.

NIH plans to award 12 to 15 contracts under the CIOSP program, which will offer civilian agencies a broad array of hardware, software and technology services ranging from telecommunications to data center services to Year 2000 solutions. It will compete with other governmentwide contracts, namely the $935 million Defense Enterprise Integration Services (DEIS) contract and the $1.1 billion Information Technology Omnibus Procurement (ITOP) contract, which the Transportation Department plans to award this fall [FCW, May 6].

The time between first announcing the CIOSP program and contract awards is expected to be just over three months, shortening the procurement process by months or even years. The scramble to ready the contract is being driven by a pent-up demand for information technology. That was caused by three government shutdowns brought on by the fiscal 1996 budget impasse and the January blizzard, industry executives said.

"There's going to be a lot of buying in the last couple of months, and [NIH] wants to get in position to get a piece of it," said an employee of a vendor that has been prequalified.

Taking advantage of new procurement rules scheduled to go into effect later this summer, NIH is taking a somewhat unorthodox approach to the program. The agency is meeting with the prequalified bidders to hammer out the details of CIOSP's statement of work, which NIH hopes to issue Aug. 8. Awards will be made just one week later. By meeting face-to-face over a table, NIH hopes to cut down on the traditionally formal, long and costly process of issuing a request for comments, developing a draft request for proposals (RFP) to receive more comments and then, finally, a request for proposals and amendments.

Vendors and government officials said the close relationship is encouraged by recent procurement reform legislation, particularly the Information Technology Management Reform Act (ITMRA), which goes into effect Aug. 8.

"I've been in this business for 35 years, and I've never seen anything like this," said James White, head of OAO Corp.'s Millennium Solutions Center, which offers Year 2000 services and is one of the prequalified bidders. "This is truly revolutionary."

In another unconventional move, vendors have formed five committees to work out the details of the RFP and to garner support for the contract, according to sources. Vendors formed committees to oversee contract administration, calculate award fees and performance measurements, market CIOSP to federal agencies, inform the executive and legislative branches about the contract, and handle inquiries from the media.

"All we're doing is following the ITMRA as to what their intent was," such as value-based billing and solution-based contracts, said a source familiar with the contract.

But Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc., said NIH is coming close to stepping outside of ITMRA's intent to open up the procurement process by not conducting as much due diligence in qualifying vendors.

Under DEIS and ITOP, "there was some semblance of discrimination and looking at who got the awards," he added. "With [CIOSP], there's no real thought or intent to discriminate. It makes a complete mockery of [procurement reform]" because no effort is made to choose the top contenders. Under DEIS, Dornan pointed out, only six teams were chosen.

However, Al Burman, vice president of the professional services firm Jefferson Strategic Marketing, Washington, D.C., said the market that competition forms will ensure that the best companies get the most business.

"CIOSP is an exciting approach [that] is trying to open up the system and get information out to everyone," he said.

Burman, former head of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy under presidents Reagan and Bush, said CIOSP is similar to the Federal Aviation Administration's screening information requests (SIRs), which are part of the FAA's new acquisition management system. SIRs seek to gather information about vendors and offer information about procurement.

Manny De Vera, CIOSP's program manager, declined comment last week.

NIH designed CIOSP - a purchasing vehicle for IT - for newly appointed CIOs, whom each agency is required by the ITMRA to name by Aug. 8. Through CIOSP, CIOs will purchase or outsource IT services, including data center services, IT operations, integration services, telecommuting services, telecommunications, security and Year 2000 services.

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