Air Force purchase will challenge bidders

HANSCOM AFB Mass. - The Air Force Electronic Systems Center which is putting together a large procurement for information technology support services said last week that its decision to award blanket purchase agreements rather than standard contracts would affect everything from how prospective bidders form teams to how the agency weighs the bidders' past performance in making awards.

The Information Technology Services Program (ITSP) - estimated by industry sources to be worth $500 million or more - will be the primary vehicle for IT support services for ESC the Air Force's "center of excellence" for command and control systems. The program will involve a series of BPAs based on vendors' General Services Administration schedule contracts [FCW Aug. 25].ESC programs include the Airborne Warning and Control System the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System and the Command and Control Unified Battlespace Environment.

ESC plans to take "full advantage" of the flexibility that comes with BPAs said Matt Mleziva the Defense Information Infrastructure-Air Force program director at ESC. "If there is nothing illegal or immoral about it we will retain that flexibility " Mleziva said speaking last week at a vendor conference at ESC headquarters here.

For starters ESC does not have a set number of BPAs it intends to award nor an estimate of how much the program ultimately may be worth. The agency also intends to leave open the possibility of signing up new vendors after the initial BPAs have already been signed.

Some of the most difficult changes for vendors will come at the outset ESC said.

Rather than asking vendors to bid on a narrow set of requirements the agency plans to create a list of labor categories that reflects the breadth of its potential requirements. The agency will evaluate bids based on the ability of bidders to form teams that cover all the labor categories and on the strength of their experience in the command and control environment. The only major requirement is that 25 percent of all revenue must be directed toward small businesses.

ESC is putting the onus on bidders to figure out how to form the best team for an ITSP bid Mleziva said. The building blocks of a bid are the services offered on the GSA schedule. The challenge is to assemble the right mix of pieces.This type of solicitation essentially forces bidders to look at ESC's requirements at a very high level rather than line-item-task pricing. "We are not asking you to give us certain categories of people for certain periods of time " Mleziva said. "What we are asking is `How would you meet our requirements in terms of service?' "

More Available Options

Bill Gormley assistant commissioner for acquisition at GSA's Federal Supply Service which will set up the BPAs emphasized that the BPA approach gives vendors a number of options for putting together teams.

Rather than having a single prime contractor a team might include a number of schedule holders any one of which might take the lead on a particular task order including large and small businesses.

The teams might also include subcontractors that do not hold GSA schedule contracts but provide important skill sets. "It affords you the opportunity to really market what your capabilities are to the customer " Gormley said.Many vendors attending the conference last week had questions about the mechanics of bidding on ITSP but as a whole they believe ESC's approach is a good one in line with their own goals.

"We [vendors] have been looking for ways to speed things up " said John J. Flynn vice president of Mei Technology Corp. a small business that has been doing business at ESC for a number of years.

"This is good for everybody. I think ESC really should be complimented for moving in this direction " he said.

Small vendors in particular approve of the flexibility in teaming arrangements.

"I like the fact [that] it gives me the opportunity to play on an open field with the largest companies or others in more specialized niches " said Bill Haseltine the group manager for cost analysis operations at MCR Federal Inc. MCR anticipates doing business through its own GSA schedule as well as serving as a sub to other players Haseltine said.

ESC will not be looking at past performance in awarding BPAs the agency said. Instead past performance will be considered only on particular task orders based on the performance of BPA holders on the particular type of services involved.

Once the BPAs are in place task orders will be awarded based on solicitations with a more defined list of requirements. In keeping with the spirit of federal acquisition streamlining ESC plans to ask at least three BPA teams to bid on new task orders while follow-on work may be competitively awarded said 2nd Lt. Craig Parisot ESC's ITSP contracting officer.

The number of BPAs awarded ultimately depends on the number of qualified bids received ESC said. The agency will allow vendors that do not get BPAs to resubmit their bids and may open up the program for new bids if the agency needs to fill new IT requirements.

"We are after a set of BPA holders that will meet our requirements " Mleziva said. "I can't tell you what that set will be because you will have to offer it to us."

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