RFP for COTS financial system hits the streets

As part of its high-profile effort to streamline and consolidate its hardware, software and network systems throughout the agency, NASA has released a request for proposals for its planned Integrated Financial Management Project.

The RFP follows the agency's decision last year to dump the NASA Accounting and Financial Information System (NAFIS) in favor of a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) solution. NAFIS, an in-house system, had run over budget and behind schedule.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's ADP procurement office, which issued the RFP, would not comment on the release, except to say that the procurement will use two innovative evaluation "techniques."

Specifically, NASA will push price consideration to the end of the evaluation, focusing on first down-selecting offers that would make the "best fits" for NASA. The agency will then consider price in the second of a two-part evaluation phase.

"Two years ago, this kind of prequalification would have been much more difficult to pull off," according to Bob Dornan, senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc. "But now, with the emphasis on efficient competition, it's become socially acceptable and unlikely to generate any protests."

Congressional Dispensation

NASA has "been given an [informal] dispensation by Congress to be a laboratory for innovation," Dornan said.

For example, as part of NASA's innovative midrange procurement program, NASA "stopped putting notices in the [Commerce Business Daily] long before it was permissible" for other agencies, Dornan said. This just-released RFP is available only via a NASA World Wide Web site. The site allows potential vendors to post comments about the RFP via the Internet.

In addition, the procurement will employ the use of an unpriced option for asset management. "Unpriced options used to be very, very frowned upon and in some cases the sources of protest. This is moving away from the risk-averse and saying, 'Let's try some new stuff,' " Dornan said.

Last year, NASA's chief financial officer, Arnold Holz, had called the in-development NAFIS "too expensive" and described it as having been chosen "at a time when NASA's culture was very different."

NAFIS had been running behind schedule and over budget for several years before it was scrapped last year. In 1991 the General Accounting Office criticized NAFIS, saying the project would not meet federal requirements for agency budgeting and accounting systems.

GAO also criticized NASA for failing to correctly estimate the costs associated with NAFIS.

The new NASA system will support core financial management; budget formulation; time and attendance, procurement, travel and asset management processes; and executive information systems.

Just as NAFIS was intended to do, the new system will integrate and standardize systems throughout all NASA centers. It will also allow NASA to carry out its recent plan to conduct full cost accounting for all agency programs and activities.

The winning vendor will be required to bring the new 15-year system on-line by October 1997.

GAO, over the past two years, has directed federal agencies to adopt COTS software for their core financial management systems.

The RFP is on NASA's Web site at http://booster.nasa.gov:443/rfp.

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