DOD opens PC contracts

Reflecting the new competitive environment of federal information technology procurement the Defense Department last month reversed its personal computer procurement policy and opened ordering on all of its PC contracts to any military service.

DOD officials predicted that the Army's PC-2 and Portable-2 contracts both under protest could be the first buying vehicles to take advantage of the new rules.

For three years DOD has restricted buying on PC contracts to the service that manages the contract. The policy shift corrects an anomaly created after passage of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996 which allowed civilian agencies to market their contracts to DOD but would not permit the individual services to order from one another's contracts said Kevin Carroll director of the Army Communications-Electronics Command's Washington Operations Office.

"It provides the services with other vehicles they can use without going outside DOD " Carroll said.Emmett Paige Jr. assistant secretary of Defense for command control communications and intelligence who plans to retire as soon as the White House names a replacement announced the new policy in a one-page memo distributed to all services and Defense agencies last month. Publication of a more detailed PC plan which will annotate DOD's IT contracts is imminent.

Service and industry officials said they would need to read the complete policy document to determine if it applies to current contracts such as the Air Force's Desktop V a $1 billion contract for PCs and portables. "We don't know what is going to come down the line regarding current contracts " said Lt. Col. Andrew Gilmore director of contracting at the Air Force's Standard Systems Group (SSG) Montgomery Ala.

In addition the Paige memo:

* Changed the performance period of PC contracts from two to three years.

* Said the policy will be updated to remove references to the outdated Brooks Act and Warner Amendment which served as the federal information technology road map until passage of the Clinger-Cohen Act.

* Said the new policy also will reflect an update in the standards for minimum PC configurations "to reflect today's environment."

The memo did not reveal the reasoning behind the changes and Paige did not respond to requests for comment.

Chip Mather senior vice president of the consulting firm Acquisition Solutions Inc. said the new policy reflects "the fact that this is a different world than existed three years ago.... There's just a lot more competition."

Mather who helped manage major Air Force procurements during his tour at SSG said Paige's original decision to have each service manage and buy off its own vehicles resulted from concerns by industry that a major vehicle open to buyers from all the services but held by only two companies would sharply restrict competition for DOD business.

The new era fostered by the Clinger-Cohen Act has obviated those concerns Mather said.Indeed Anthony Battista fielding team leader with the Army's Small Computer Program (SCP) office Fort Monmouth N.J. said the policy shift could result in management problems for shops such as his which handles and processes orders from users. SCP currently does not have the staff to handle the expected flood of orders from Air Force or Navy users Battista said "and we need to figure out how to do that."Gilmore agreed saying that because of scope limitations on contracts such as Desktop V and the Unified Local-Area Network II vehicle allowing the Army and Navy to buy off them could quickly push the contracts to the buying limits requiring SSG to run another procurement. "Our main job is not to award contracts but satisfy user requirements " Gilmore said.

Tom Walters program manager for Desktop V at Hughes Data Systems Inc. embraced the change. "I'd like to see it made retroactive [to existing contracts]...and if they max out there should be a way to raise the ceilings " he said.

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