AF, IC4I vendors huddle to smooth out problems

The Air Force this month launched an intensive effort to straighten the kinks out of its $929 million program for products and services in the intelligence and command and control communities.

More than six months after making the first awards on the Integration for Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (IC4I) program, the program office met with its three contractors - BTG Inc., Cordant Inc. and Systems Research and Applications Corp. - to devise new procedures for handling task orders, processing contract changes and other tasks for this indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity program.

"Our No. 1 consideration is how to best satisfy the customers. That is a concern not only of the program office but of the contractors," said Linda Jean, the IC4I program manager for the Electronic Systems Center (ESC), Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.

ESC convened three full-day meetings with BTG, Cordant and SRA after the contractors and customers complained about ESC's ability to quickly turn around product and service orders, engineering change proposals and other tasks. In some cases, vendors reported losing business to other vehicles because of slow turnarounds.

IC4I has turned out to be complex because, in most cases, all three vendors compete for a given task order, the vendors said.

ESC has already made some changes - for example, how to award task orders directed to specific contractors. But other changes will require modifying the contract, Jean said. ESC would not discuss the proposed contract modification until it is fully approved.

But the first round of changes will go a long way toward putting the program back on track, vendors said. "They are going way out of the way to make [the contract] as easy as possible in every phase of the process," said Bob Donovan, director of IC4I sales and marketing at Cordant.

ESC has made it possible to award a task order without competing it among all three vendors for follow-on efforts or where a specific contractor has specialized capabilities, Jean said.

In general, the process can be improved by giving the vendors more leeway in working with the customers, Jean said. "We want the contractors' involvement as early as possible to help the customers define their requirements, get the work on the contract and get it started as soon as possible," she said.

The Air Force also has improved the process for filling product orders. Because the contracts took more than a year to award, vendors had to make extensive changes to their product tables. The program office reduced the time for processing new product proposals from as much as several weeks to three to five working days.

More important, product orders will not be delayed while the vendors finish updating their product tables, said Cal Shintani, director of business development at BTG. In the past, if a customer requested specific networking products or other technology that was not available from all three vendors, the order would be held until all three vendors could offer the product. A product now can be purchased if only one or two vendors have it.

As a whole, ESC is making IC4I a more flexible vehicle, Shintani said. "It's trying to make sure we are as responsive as possible to our customers."

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