Forest Service opens IT contract to Interior

Seizing an opportunity to cut costs and expand its already close working relationship the Agriculture Department's Forest Service will soon open up its primary computer hardware and software contract to the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management.

The Forest Service plans to open its $276 million Project 615 contract - which provides to USDA agencies software geographic information systems (GIS) IBM Corp.'s RISC System/6000 (RS/6000) workstations X terminals and office automation software - to Interior bureaus and offices because the two agencies have common missions and needs said Richard Salazar contracting officer for Project 615.

BLM and the Forest Service share responsibility for fighting forest fires timber harvesting assigning grazing rights and managing neighboring tracts of land. The two have begun the Trading Post Initiative which will co-locate the agencies' field offices. So far the Forest Service has co-located offices with BLM in Colorado and plans to do the same in Oregon. And for the first time the agencies have contracts in place that offer RS/6000.

"The Forest Service and BLM will work more closely together to share the same offices and resources " Salazar said. "It allows for greater savings through sharing information technology personnel and data."The Forest Service already can purchase off BLM's $403 million Automated Land and Mineral Record System (ALMRS) Modernization pact which also supplies Interior's land management agencies with office automation software GIS and RS/6000 systems. Computer Sciences Corp. is the prime contractor for ALMRS which will automate BLM's 1 billion pages of land and mineral records.

BLM and the Forest Service can only buy products that are not on their respective contracts Salazar said. The idea is not to create an "auction atmosphere" where agencies bargain for the best price but to improve availability of products to agencies that have much in common.

"We have fairly common missions and objectives to share software " said Bruce Beierle contracting officer for ALMRS. "We will look at [sharing] common applications such as forms for grazing rights which are not the same now. Eventually we will share systems with the Forest Service."

Beierle said it is easier and cheaper to buy products from an existing contract than to advertise for new items. The two agencies will get better pricing from volume purchasing.

Bob Dornan senior vice president of Federal Sources Inc. said that while there is high-level policy support for agencies opening up contracts to the rest of the government and substantial savings it must be done correctly. "I'm not saying that it doesn't make sense but there are procedures for accomplishing that " Dornan said.

"There are very specific limitations on what you can do with a contract to change it after it has been awarded " he said. "It's not just a management decision you have to go through rigorous actions to change the scope." A contract change that has been made incorrectly opens the door for protests Dornan added.

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