Commerce Commits to small biz

In a move aimed at diverting more federal information technology contracts to small businesses, the Commerce Department last week released a solicitation worth as much as $1.5 billion for a governmentwide information technology support services contract for small businesses.

Commerce unveiled late last month details about the Commerce Information Technology Solutions (Commits) contract. The indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract will provide support solutions in three major functional areas: information systems engineering, such as business process re-engineering; information systems security, such as disaster recovery; and systems operations and management, including network support.

Contracts let off Commits, which is expected to be worth at least $500 million but could go as high as $1.5 billion, will be reserved exclusively for small, small disadvantaged, 8(a) and women-owned businesses. Commerce expects to award in April the first of what will be about 36 prime contracts. Commerce hopes agencies will use Commits to reach socio-economic goals and to funnel more work to small businesses, said Alan Balutis, deputy chief information officer at Commerce. "In talking about and looking at our own goals, we realized that while people have [small business] goals, they don't have a tool or mechanism to achieve them," Balutis said. "The perception is that the proliferation of governmentwide contracts and blanket purchase agreements has hurt the small and minority business community."

Beyond the GSA Schedule

Although agencies can get small business credit by buying off small businesses' General Services Administration schedules, Commits offers several benefits, said Chip Mather, senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions Inc., who helped draft the Commits solicitation. Many small businesses may not have a GSA schedule, Mather said. "If an item is not on the [GSA] schedule, it is somewhat difficult to get," he said. "Commits is solutions-based; the schedules cannot accommodate a solutions-based approach."

For example, vendors on Commits are not tied to a prescribed contract line item or labor category, Mather said. In addition, vendors on Commits can opt to use the Federal Supply Schedule to procure products for a particular task order.

While not familiar with Commits, Carolyn Alston, deputy assistant commissioner at GSA's Federal Supply Service, said more than 70 percent of schedule holders are small businesses, and they account for about 30 percent of the dollars. "We have a wide variety of offerings in the information technology area and pretty much cover every common" agency need, Alston said.

Carl Peckinpaugh, a member of the government contracts section of the law firm Winston & Strawn, Washington, D.C., and an FCW columnist, said providing a vehicle does not necessarily translate into more work for small businesses. "I am not convinced that the problem for small businesses is lack of IDIQ contract awards," he said. "They need real work."

In addition, Commits likely will run into competition from other government-wide contracts that feature small businesses, such as the Transportation Department's Information Technology Omnibus Procurement and the GSA multiple-award schedule, Peckinpaugh said.

Commits "is still competing against other vehicles," Peckinpaugh said. "What's the advantage of having another contract vehicle [for small businesses]? There's nothing requiring anyone to buy" off Commits.


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