Programs won't change, NIH official tells vendors

Officials at the National Institutes of Health last week assured vendors that a recent contracting office reorganization will cause no fundamental changes in three innovative information technology programs administered by the agency.

In a meeting Wednesday with vendors participating in ImageWorld - one of the three governmentwide programs in question - Leamon Lee associate director for administration at NIH said he has "no intention of going back" to the highly regulated way of managing contracts that prevailed before procurement reform laws took effect.

"I wanted to throw the regs...away a long time ago " he said.

Lee scheduled similar meetings last week and this week with vendors who have contracts under the Electronic Computer Store (ECS) and Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIO-SP) programs during which he explained the new management structure of the agency's Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC).

Late last month Lee expanded the NITAAC staff from five to 25 saying it was time to devote more resources to the programs. In the last few weeks of fiscal 1996 agencies bought $140 million in products and services from the contracts - more than was projected particularly for ECS and CIO-SP.

A business plan for NITAAC prepared last February called for a permanent staff of nine with more to be added based upon the office's workload. Sources familiar with NITAAC operations said Manny De Vera the original manager of all three programs had asked for additional staff but none was provided until the reorganization.

Lee told vendors he had not wanted to staff the programs fully until they had started. Although ECS was awarded more than a year ago ImageWorld and CIO-SP were awarded in August.

In the new organization De Vera and Gale Greenwald who was the chief contracting officer for ImageWorld and CIO-SP were given less prominent roles which led some vendors to question NIH's commitment to the government-wide programs. Lee told vendors last week that he had not "demoted" either De Vera who is now one of four program managers or Greenwald now the lead CIO-SP contracting officer but that they initially had assumed leadership roles themselves.

After learning more about the new management structure vendors said they would not make quick judgments about how it would work. They said some of their anxiety about the changes stemmed from the fact that both they and their customers still are learning how to use the vehicles and they do not want customers to be confused by any changes in buying procedures.

Pauline Seleski marketing support manager with DoxSys Inc. an ImageWorld contractor said "We came out feeling positive about the direction that the contract is moving in." She added "We have to move forward."

"We had a captain at the helm and now we have a new one " said Steve Grimaldi director of the Advanced Systems Division with Universal Hi-Tech Development Inc. an ImageWorld and CIO-SP vendor. "We knew where we were going before and now we have to see where this new captain wants to take us."

De Vera and Greenwald apparently had discussed with some vendors whether they would support moving the contracts from NIH to another agency. Early last week De Vera sent an electronic-mail message a copy of which was obtained by Federal Computer Week to more than a dozen vendors asking them to sign a letter to the Office of Management and Budget that proposed moving the contracts from NIH.

Asked about the message De Vera and Greenwald said it was only an idea that was abandoned when several companies advised against it.

Asked by vendors specifically about a plan to present the contracts to agency chief information officers this winter Lee said "I do not intend to stop any of these programs."

Lee said he also would meet with vendors to discuss a plan to launch an electronic catalog that would allow customers to place orders through the Internet.

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