'Master' agreements to integrate agency

In what it characterizes as a new way of doing business for systems development the U.S. Postal Service has announced plans to award seven long-term "master" contracts for particular functional areas that span the department.

With the so-called Preferred Supplier/Partner Agreements USPS will hire one vendor each to develop software for the seven functional areas that cut across the agency such as finance and payroll.

According to a notice posted on the USPS Web site (www.usps.gov) the agreements will "orchestrate the transformation of USPS into a new way of thinking. It will allow for the integration of stovepipe solutions into manageable consolidated portfolio views." The agreements also will support the USPS initiative to "move the agency from a functional [way] to a process way of accomplishing its mission."

The agreements will bring consistency and standardization to agency systems that traditionally have been developed in isolation said Debbie Judy a systems development specialist at USPS. "We're trying to find those in industry who are best in their area and use their expertise to help us grow " she said. "In information systems we took a look at what applications are out there. It boils down to how to support our customers using a standard [systems] architecture. This will help us do that."

There are many systems in USPS that have been developed with no consideration of how they fit into the larger agency architecture Judy said. But by working with a few vendors in a specific functional area USPS will better ensure that agency systems interoperate and that efforts are not duplicated.

"The bigger goal is to build applications that support an end-to-end process. Ultimately we will move the mail faster " she said.

USPS has organized the contracts into seven functional areas: marketing including retail commercial and sales expedited products such as express mail international finance payroll human resources and administration including facilities purchasing and legal. Only one vendor will win in each area but a single vendor can win up to two contracts. There are also subcontracting opportunities.

While USPS officials say it is too early to estimate the value of these contracts vendors are interested in the opportunity because it means consistent work with the agency.

Tom Liberti marketing director at Tracor Information Systems Co. which is interested in bidding said the contracts "could be a very big long-term opportunity for vendors." A lot of automation has already been done at USPS and large contracts have been awarded he said such as the recent $3 billion Managed Network Services contract awarded to MCI and the estimated $1 billion Point-of-Service ONE contract awarded to IBM Corp. and NCR Corp. last year. This is one of the few large USPS opportunities that exist now Liberti added.

USPS first will prequalify vendors interested in bidding on the contracts. The agency then will issue a solicitation - expected to be released at the end of this month - to the prequalified vendors which then will formulate bids. USPS will issue task orders to the winning firms primarily for software development work. But USPS has not defined the specific work or systems to be worked on.

The agency last year awarded master ordering agreements to nine companies but those agreements differ in that the task orders issued by the agency were competed among the nine.

USPS agreements are similar to what other agencies are doing said Al Burman president of Jefferson Solutions Washington D.C. "In general government users are putting prequalified vendors on a list and as requirements come up [they] issue task orders " he said. "This gives agencies a quick turnaround and makes things happen a lot faster."

Bob Dornan senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc. said that because vendors will not compete for task orders under the agreements he hopes the initial competition will "ensure good prices and quality services." USPS will need to track vendor performance and be ready to pull the plug if vendors do not meet expectations.

Federal agencies are moving away from single-award task-order contracts and toward multiple awards so the USPS procurement is against the trend said Steven Kelman administrator of the Office of Federal Procurement Policy.

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