EER wins 'seat' pact for 30-person agency

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board, one of the government's smallest agencies, has turned to seat management to update its computer systems and keep pace with changing technology, awarding EER Systems Inc. a 10-year, $1.5 million contract.

Under the deal, reached July 30, EER Systems will provide desktop computers, office automation software, World Wide Web-hosting services, Internet access and support services to the 30-person agency, which develops national guidelines for making workplaces, public buildings and public transportation accessible to people with disabilities.

As part of the contract, the company will supply and support so-called adaptive technology - special hardware and software that makes it possible for people with disabilities to use computers.

"We found over the years [that] we could never afford a really good IT procurement plan," said Larry Roffee, executive director of the agency, which is known as the Access Board. The agency's one-person information technology staff "couldn't keep us up to date [and] we couldn't control our costs. [And] the idea of a fixed cost per month per seat was very attractive to us," Roffee said.

Small agencies are not usually considered likely customers for seat management, for which the main selling point has been the economies of scale available from outsourcing the procurement and support of equipment for hundreds of users. But Payton Smith, manager of strategic studies with Federal Sources Inc., said the level of services an agency can obtain is another "key benefit."

"In most situations, for a very small group of people a seat management solution probably is going to be more expensive than what they're doing," he said. For the Access Board, however, "their situation doesn't sound like it was a matter of budget so much as expertise and human resources."

Richard Painter, director of business development with EER Systems, said he hopes the Access Board contract becomes a model for how seat management can work for small agencies. He said he has heard of several other small agencies with similar requirements.

EER Systems will upgrade the Access Board's Intel Corp. 486 processor computers with the company's latest Pentium processors. For its office automation package, the agency chose software from Corel Corp. because its applications work best with the screen readers used by some employees, Roffee said.

In addition, the company will upgrade the agency's online access with frame-relay technology and a T-1 connection to the Internet as well as host the agency's World Wide Web site. "Most seat management contracts don't include that," Roffee said, but "we didn't want to be bothered having to do all that."

Agencies also may soon begin demanding another feature of the Access Board's procurement: that vendors be able to supply and support adaptive technology for disabled workers. Procurement regulations under development will require that, starting next year, agencies buy computer equipment that can be adjusted for employees with disabilities.

Not many companies have expertise in this area. "There's some very sophisticated stuff out there and different kinds of equipment," Roffee said. The Access Board wanted a contractor that understood the pros and cons of the products on the market and "who knew and understood and intuitively grasped the concept that you need to give equal access to all employees," he said.

Painter said that because of the upcoming rules, such requirements are bound to become more important, and as they do, vendors will develop the capability to handle them. For this contract, EER Systems subcontracted with TeleSonic, Annapolis, Md., which specializes in adaptive technology.

Although EER Systems has a contract with the General Services Administration's Seat Management program, the Access Board conducted its procurement through the Bureau of Public Debt, which provides administrative services to the agency through a franchise agreement.

Roffee said he found the GSA contracts and a similar program run by NASA "were tailored obviously to much, much larger agencies. The more we looked, the easier it was to do it ourselves."

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