FDA lures 8(a)s to IT buy valued up to $200 million

The Food and Drug Administration issued a solicitation last week for networking services and products thought to be the largest 8(a) information technology buy ever launched by the FDA.The FDA Network Acquisition and Support contract a multiple-award indefinite-delivery indefinite-quantity contract is estimated to be worth between $100 million and $200 million over five years. It consolidates a number of soon-to-expire individual telecommunications services contracts currently held by 8(a) vendors.

"This will cover most if not all of our telecommunications and networking needs we will have over the next five years " said Dennis Hunt chief of the information technology contract branch at the FDA. "We use 8(a) contractors now for telecom support and they have done a good job but we have not done" a large competitive service procurement for 8(a)s.

The FDA will issue individual task orders in six task areas identified by the agency: telecommunications network systems installation and enhancement of telecommunications client/server and fiber-optic networks videoconferencing communication guidelines and standards help desk and engineering services. This is primarily a services buy but will include incidental hardware purchases.

Rules of the Game

Vendors will be able to bid on one or more task areas based on their area of expertise. "If a company specializes in video teleconferencing then they can bid on only that " Hunt said. "We will make as many awards as we need to establish a cadre of contractors that can compete."

This represents a significant opportunity for 8(a)s in terms of the size and variety of tasks available. "This is one of the largest contracts we have available to us " said Steve Yahr president and chief operating officer at Global Management Systems Inc. an 8(a) that is bidding on the contract. "There have been others in this size range but they are rare. And [we] don't always get to see the whole spectrum of opportunities" that this FDA contract offers.

While the contract is attractive to 8(a) companies there are also opportunities for small businesses and others to participate in a teaming arrangement.

Kirby Kintner vice president of business development at Compex Corp. said the company will bid as a subcontractor under Systems Resources Inc. The FDA network is distributed and requires a contractor to be able to move people and resources where needed he said - something that a larger company can help provide. "Quality of resources and how they are distributed will help in this teaming " Kintner said.

The FDA operates more than 120 local-area networks in 21 offices across the country and uses a mix of machines applications and desktop and network operating systems. Products include Novell NetWare Banyan Vines Microsoft Windows Exchange Mail DOS Oracle and Unix.

The FDA's wide-area network consists of a dual Fiber Distributed Data Interface ring with a router belonging to each of the centers hanging off the ring. The WAN provides a variety of circuits including T-1 and 56K for data connectivity.

Vendors expected to bid on this as a prime contractor include ROW Sciences Inc. Digital Systems Research Inc. and Sytel Inc.

An award is expected around July 31.

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