DOT, NIH partner for contract services

After competing head-to-head with the National Institutes of Health's governmentwide acquisition contracts (GWACs) for two years, the Transportation Department plans to provide contract administration services for agencies that buy off those NIH contracts.

The two agencies plan to sign the agreement soon to make it easier for agencies that do not have the in-house resources to award and administer task orders to buy products and services from NIH's GWACs, including Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners (CIO-SP), Electronic Computer Store II and ImageWorld contracts.

The deal, which is scheduled to be in place for the end of the fiscal buying season, is expected to drive more business through the NIH contracts by making them more accessible to agencies. DOT will receive a fee from agencies based on the type of services it provides.

"We have extra capabilities that would assist NIH in terms of getting more task orders through their [contracts]. We would share in the percentage of the throughput," said Dell Berry, project manager for the Information Technology Omnibus Procurement (ITOP) Special Project Office at DOT. "We have quite a bit of business in that area, and NIH doesn't provide that support."

Some federal agencies also need help in making payments to contractors, Berry said. "NIH doesn't accept those types of orders. We could provide that."

DOT has experience managing large GWACs. ITOP has nearly reached its $1.13 billion ceiling, and the department hopes to release a solicitation July 1 for a $10 billion ITOP follow-on contract.

"We're both providing services to end users," said Marie Monsees, program director at the NIH Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center. "It's to our mutual advantage...and it really opens up more doors to end users. It will allow more business to flow because we're pooling the resources of two major agencies."

Berry described the agreement as a "reinvention experiment," noting that NIH and DOT are part of the Mayflower Compact, which was signed last year by managers of four major governmentwide information technology programs. The agreement lays out a set of informal "rules of the road'' for competing task orders and administering contracts. It is the result of concerns raised by federal officials and vendors that agencies might be using their new procurement freedoms unwisely. The Defense Department and the General Services Administration's Federal Systems Integration and Management Center also signed the compact.

Although ITOP and CIO-SP are primarily services contracts, the agencies do not view each other as competitors. "If a customer comes to us and wants to use CIO-SP, we will [help them]," Berry said.

Monsees said her office has directed many users who need contract support to DOT and also to GSA in Kansas City, Mo. "This agreement allows us to work more closely with [DOT]," she said.

The agreement makes sense, said Robert Guerra, president of Robert J. Guerra & Associates. "It's like the PC business," he said. "If you [could] sell four more PCs without adding resources, then I'd want to do it. If Transportation can do it without redirecting resources from [its] business base then it makes sense. It also makes sense for NIH, which doesn't have the time or resources to do [contract administration]."

He added that while NIH experienced problems in the past when processing task orders, a recent reorganization has improved the way it manages IT.

"It's an example of entrepreneurship and how to provide the best support possible," said Allan Burman, president of Jefferson Solutions.

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