Network buy pared in favor of governmentwide pacts

The National Institutes of Health has scaled back a network procurement thought to be worth about $70 million and instead plans to purchase much of the equipment software and services it needs from other contracts.

"It would be silly to duplicate something that's already been done " said John Dickson chief of high-performance scientific computing with the NIH Division of Computer Research and Technology (DCRT). Dickson is in charge of the Distributed Networking procurement for the agency which is one of four acquisitions that make up Project CERTAN (Computer Equipment Resources and Technology Acquisition for NIH).

Who Gets What

NIH's decision to scale back the Distributed Networking procurement comes at a time when the agency is poised to award two other Project CERTAN contracts.

By the end of this month the agency plans to award Support Services worth an estimated $200 million to provide help desk tech support and training services.

Corporate Computing worth an estimated $170 million would upgrade IBM Corp. mainframes used by DCRT. Award of that contract is planned for next month.

Meanwhile Dickson said the CERTAN Distributed Networking procurement would be limited to requirements that could not be fulfilled through existing NIH and governmentwide contracts.

He said those vehicles include NIH's Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIO-SP) and Electronic Computer Store contracts as well as NASA's Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement (SEWP) although he added "we don't want to artificially restrict ourselves at this point."

Did You Say Cancel?

Chuck Wheeler a Mitchelville Md.-based consultant said agencies are beginning to cancel procurements because they can buy what they need from the General Services Administration's multiple-award schedules or other vehicles. "I think that is going to happen all the time " he said.

According to market researcher Federal Sources Inc. over the past two years one-fourth of the major federal information technology procurements have been canceled for various reasons including changes in acquisition strategies and budget cuts.

Distributed Networking has been on hold since September in part because officials at GSA's Federal Computer Acquisition Center (Fedcac) were working on the Corporate Computing buy.

Dickson planned to ask NIH's Office of Procurement Management to take over the scaled-back networking procurement.

But vendors who have been following the program said NIH was also looking into whether it needs the contract - which is planned as a small-business set-aside - at all.

One vendor who did not wish to be named said it would be easy for DCRT to get volume discounts from existing contracts for network equipment and workstations and that companies were questioning whether it would be worth bidding for Distributed Networking.

Customer Satisfaction

"My impression of having both of them is [that] ultimately the customer will decide what is the best contract vehicle and what one they're going to use " said Brendan Keegan director of business development with Electronic Data Systems Corp.'s Government Services Division.

"I think CIO-SP and CERTAN Distributed will have different nuances different service levels different rates different contractors.

"Ultimately the customer will get the highest service level to match what they're looking for " she commented.

EDS holds three contracts with NIH - under CIO-SP ImageWorld and ECS - and has bid as a subcontractor to Orkand for another CERTAN contract Support Services.

The Network's Scope

Dickson would not discuss the scope of Distributed Networking saying this was something he would be reviewing with NIH procurement officials.

He said DCRT would issue a draft request for proposals for vendors to comment.

"If we can't convince them" that they should bid on Distributed Networking Dickson added "I certainly hope they'll let us know."

According to Fedcac DCRT had planned to issue the draft RFP in January but that schedule might change Dickson said.

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