Draft RFP out for DCS system

The Census Bureau late last month released a draft request for proposals (DRFP) for its image-based Data Capture System (DCS) that changes the acquisition strategy for the system that will process forms for the 2000 census.

Census now says it will make one award for the design, development, production and nationwide deployment of DCS 2000, which will use digital imaging for the first time to process 1 billion census forms in 100 days.

It also plans to release a separate solicitation toward the end of the year to build and operate the data capture centers that will be in place for the 2000 census.

Originally, the bureau planned to award multiple contracts for DCS 2000 design and development, followed by a fly-off competition for a second production and deployment contract. In a June 21 letter to vendors, Census said "many of you questioned this strategy and further analysis on our part underscored the disadvantage of this approach."

"We had comments from vendors that went both ways" in support of a multiple and single award, said Robert Marx, associate director of the decennial census. The decision came down to whether Census could "effectively manage" two or more vendors and, in a relatively short period of time, get a handle on the details of the systems and make an "informed decision" on which one to proceed with, Marx said.

But while there will be only one contract, it will be conducted in two phases - a fixed-price contract for Phase I design and development with provisions for the issuance of task orders for Phase II production and nationwide deployment.

Originally, four test demonstrations were planned during the pre-award and design phases. Now Census plans to make the fourth and final test the 1998 decennial census dress rehearsal, which will simulate the 2000 census.

With Phase I design and development extending into the summer of 1998, the dress rehearsal will be the best test of the prototype system. "We will receive several hundred-thousand [actual] census forms," Marx said. "We will run a small stack of some over and over again to see how well the paper transport and the character- and mark-recognition work and other [subsystems] that are essential to move 1 billion pages of census forms."

Jim Everett, vice president of government sales for ScanOptics, said "there are a number of integrators that would rather see a single award" because they would get more return for their investment if they were to win. But for subcontractors such as ScanOptics, "the more awards, the better chance to show your products."

DCS 2000, valued between $50 million and $100 million, will process incoming census forms, digitally capture and process form images, automatically convert the image data to text-based data and edit data that cannot be automatically converted. Census expects to release an RFP in mid-August, receive written proposals in early October, hear oral presentations in November and award a six-year contract in March 1997.

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