VA abandons PAIRS in favor of existing contract vehicles

Department of Veterans Affairs officials have pulled the plug on an estimated $875 million computer services procurement, opting instead to buy services from existing vehicles such as governmentwide contracts, blanket purchase agreements and the General Services Administration's multiple award schedule.

The program— Procurement of Automated Information Resources Solutions— was designed to be the companion to a five-year, $1.5 billion equipment contract called Procurement of Computer Hardware and Software, which was awarded to Digital Equipment Corp. and Sysorex Information Systems Inc. in January 1997.

The VA envisioned that the contracts would fulfill the entire spectrum of office automation needs for the department. But support for awarding PAIRS has waned as IT buyers at the VA— eager to install and maintain equipment bought off of the PCHS contract— have taken advantage of flexible buying vehicles that have emerged amid a recent wave of procurement reform, VA officials said. Those vehicles include BPAs with high spending ceilings as well as the addition of services to the GSA schedule.

"The dramatic changes in federal IT acquisition brought about by changed regulation and emerging contract vehicles [have] led to extensive internal discussions about the need for competing PAIRS," said Allan Gohrband, associate deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Policy and Program Assistance at the VA. "It has not been possible to establish a consensus among the major organization of VA to proceed with the acquisition, moreover to make use of a resultant contract, if awarded. It appears that the alternative contract vehicles and sources are satisfactory."

Debate on terminating the procurement had been ongoing since September, said Gohrband, who made the decision to terminate PAIRS late last month.

"It is no great surprise to me, given the fact that it's taken so long and had so many internal changes in direction," said Dick Pectol, vice president of Chevy Chase, Md.-based Abacus Technology Corp.

Over the past few years, the PAIRS strategy has swayed from full-and-open competition to small-business set-aside and back again as VA insiders debated whether small prime contractors could manage the huge procurement the way the department wanted it handled.

Planned as a three-year contract, PAIRS was terminated before the VA even issued a request for proposals. About $100,000 was spent on the procurement, according to Gohrband.

For Electronic Data Systems Corp., another vendor that was preparing to bid on PAIRS, the cancellation was also no surprise. "From the government's perspective, why would they spend all that time and effort on putting a vehicle in place when you have others you can use?" said Elizabeth Smith, director of health care business development in EDS' government business division.

"I've seen more and more agencies do just that— scrap these contracts, these [requests for proposals, requests for comments and indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts] however large or small they are, and just simply pick and choose from an assortment of GSA schedules and BPAs or teaming arrangements and just get it done," said Roxanne Dobrynski, president of Federal Schedules Inc., a Herndon, Va.-based procurement consulting firm.

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