Scads of 8(a)s will divvy up billions in IT

The General Services Administration's regional headquarters in Kansas City Mo. last week awarded 63 five-year contracts for information technology products and integration services worth as much as $5.6 billion to small and disadvantaged businesses as part of the Federal Acquisition Services for Technology program.

In addition officials at the national FAST program office in Falls Church Va. said GSA's national capital regional headquarters would award about 40 more FAST contracts to 8(a) vendors within the next two weeks. All of the FAST contracts regardless of which GSA region awards them will be worth up to $90 million each.

Francis Jones deputy director of the national FAST program said these contracts represent only one avenue available to agencies that choose to use the program. He said agencies will relay their requirements to FAST program personnel who will determine whether they can best be met by either GSA schedule contracts the 8(a) FAST vendors or some other governmentwide contract.

A vendor that won a FAST contract and holds a GSA schedule contract said most of the business funneled through the program is likely to go to the 8(a) vendors as opposed to schedule contracts. Although many vendors will offer the same services through FAST as they do through schedule contracts agencies often will opt to use the FAST contracts to obtain credit for supporting small disadvantaged and minority-owned businesses. Unlike the schedules FAST contracts are 8(a) set-aside vehicles authorized by the Small Business Administration.

Jones said FAST personnel first will look at schedules as the most attractive option when customers do not state a preference for an 8(a) firm because directing business to schedules would require less effort by the program office. If schedule vendors and other governmentwide contracts are unsuitable the 8(a) vendors will be evaluated next.

"If products are available we will try to go with the least complicated route " he said. "We are trying to persuade the 8(a) companies to also get schedule contracts. Since they will be doing a lot of marketing for this program having a schedule will make it easier for them to eat what they catch. If they go out and capture a requirement for equipment we feel we should try to place the business with that vendor."

George Essex vice president of Applied Quality Communications Inc. Falls Church said his company won a contract from Kansas City last week but also planned to obtain a GSA schedule contract to augment it. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know what you need to do to play in this game " he said. Essex said his company will provide integration and networking services requirements analysis Year 2000 solutions installation maintenance and other assistance through its FAST contract. (For a complete list of FAST contract winners see FCW's Web site at www.fcw.com/pubs/fcw/fcwhome.htm.)

The FAST program originated at the Kansas City regional offices in 1994 and was extremely successful until GSA headquarters pulled the plug on the program last year citing possible breaches of rules regarding business with 8(a) vendors. GSA solved these problems and re-established FAST as an agencywide program in which regions could compete with each other for agencies' business.

Jones said many of the same vendors that won contracts through the Kansas City program office also will win contracts from the national capital region. He added that he expected officials at GSA's regional offices in Fort Worth Texas to award contracts of their own possibly later this year.

Procurement consultant Chip Mather senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions Inc. Chantilly Va. noted that the program had been extremely popular before it went nationwide. But he questioned whether the awards amounted to much more than a license to market goods and services to federal agencies. Mather also speculated that most agency IT requirements that filtered through the FAST program could be met by schedules contracts.

When more than one 8(a) firm is eligible to meet a customer's requirements GSA will assign a number to each qualifying firm and pick three at random to market their products or services to the user.

Mather said FAST and programs like it will benefit agencies by giving them an easy avenue to acquire precisely the equipment they need from the vendors they like. "The availability of products and services is astronomical right now " he said. "This just adds to it."

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