SEWP to reopen for non-NASA buyers

NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement (SEWP) contract, one of the most popular agencywide vehicles for Unix workstations, peripherals and networking gear, will reopen to non-NASA customers as early as this week.

The General Services Administration closed SEWP to non-NASA agencies in the fall of 1994 after a period of heavy purchasing exceeded the 20 percent cap. At that time, GSA said it was concerned that the extent of non-NASA buying was not explicitly allowed in the SEWP contract language.

GSA approved NASA's request to amend and reopen the contract two weeks ago. About $380 million in its delegation of procurement authority is left on the contract, which was originally worth $827 million.

'People Want to Use It'

"We've been hearing that people want to use it," said Skip Kemerer, head of the ADP Procurement Branch at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. "It's something we've been working on doing, and I guess this was the right time for GSA to approve it. We want to make sure that it's open for end-of-the-year buying."

GSA will lose its power of oversight for government IT projects such as SEWP on Aug. 8 as a result of the Information Technology Management Reform Act, so NASA could have opened SEWP on its own after that date. However, Kemerer said, "We decided it was just as easy to amend the existing DPA as to blaze new paths" under ITMRA.

Also, he said, "GSA was eager to work with NASA to ensure that non-NASA customer needs were met."

Jan Morgan, a research analyst with International Data Corp., said she was surprised that GSA looked favorably on the reopening. "I thought GSA was in the business of expanding their own schedule," Morgan said. "When it comes to Schedule 70A, GSA is sending mixed messages. It's interesting that they would reopen SEWP and lose all of that business."

It is unclear how popular SEWP will be to non-NASA agencies the second time around.

Morgan said other agencies "that had demanding needs have awarded their own contracts in a very timely, efficient fashion," in part because SEWP was closed to their customers. These include the Army Workstations contract, currently under protest, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's scientific workstation contract, awarded in April.

NASA Drops Surcharge

To boost sales, NASA has dropped its 2 percent surcharge for purchases made on SEWP.

"For the time being, we're not going to put a surcharge on, simply to get people back and using it," Kemerer said.

"A lot of agencies have been looking to this vehicle to reopen," said Betty Greene, the program manager for SEWP at Government Technology Services Inc., which offers peripherals and X terminals. "It's a good time for people who are trying to burn up their end-of the-year [surplus dollars]. It will also be good for people who are planning to make a big Unix purchase at the beginning of the next fiscal year."

The current SEWP contract will remain open for a few weeks after SEWP II is awarded.

However, Hampton Edwards, a program marketing executive at IBM Government Industry, said, "It's really too early to say" how eagerly new customers will flock to the reopened contract. "It really depends on how successful we'll be at generating additional demand over the next months."

Hampton said NASA purchases have decreased in the last year "based on the financial pressures they've been under."

"I have no idea of how [the reopening] is going to affect existing IDIQ contracts," said John Leahy, a spokesman for Sun Microsystems Federal Inc. "All of our current products are on [the SEWP contract]."

NASA is also using the reopening to "get agencies started "using electronic data interchange (EDI) in preparation for SEWP II, which will only be available to users electronically.

Kemerer said NASA is installing "turnkey EDI systems" in some agencies to use in conjunction with SEWP.

One of the most automated purchasing vehicles in government, SEWP offers its product catalogs, shipping updates, ordering and some EDI capabilities to customers via the Internet.

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