Commerce starting over with Commits

The Commerce Department has suspended an estimated $1.5 billion governmentwide

information technology services contract and has asked interested vendors

to revise and resubmit their proposals.

Almost exactly one year ago, Commerce awarded 29 contractors pieces

of its Commerce Information Technology Solutions (Commits) program, which

was hailed as the first governmentwide IT services contract specifically

for small businesses.

However, on June 29, Commerce officials told vendors that had originally

bid on Commits that they must revise their prices and technical information

and resubmit their proposals by July 7 (later changed to July 14) in order

to be considered as a Commits vendor.

Potentially, all 209 of the contractors and subcontractors that submitted

proposals could resubmit a bid, said Michael Sade, acting director for acquisition

management at Commerce. The department has not decided how many awards it

will make this time, he said.

The department had no choice but to suspend Commits after the Court

of Federal Claims late last month upheld a protest filed by a losing vendor,

Computer & Hi-Tech Management Inc. (CHM). The company wanted Commerce

to stop awarding task orders until it completed the proposal re-evaluation

process — a process mandated by the General Accounting Office in December

when it upheld protests filed by CHM and Kathpal Technologies Inc.

Commerce has awarded 12 task orders under Commits for a total of about $100 million,

and those will continue. This week the department expects to make two additional

awards that were approved by the court. However, there are 17 awards that

have been put on hold or redirected to another vehicle, Sade said.

Although the problems mean a slower start for Commits than originally anticipated,

Sade said he is optimistic about its future. "[Commits] is a welcome addition

to the acquisition and procurement community," he said. "People love the

program. And this is a program, not just a [governmentwide acquisition contract]."

Commits is designed to funnel work to small, minority-owned businesses.

Raul Perea-Henze, deputy assistant secretary for administration at Commerce,

said Commits has the "full commitment of those up the chain." The nominee

for Commerce secretary, Norman Mineta, who is expected to receive Senate

confirmation, is a strong supporter of small and minority-owned businesses,

he said.

However, additional staff and money are needed to keep the Commits momentum

going, said Bob Welch, former procurement executive at Commerce and now

vice president of government operations at Acquisition Solutions Inc. Earlier

this year, Alan Balutis, former deputy chief information officer at Commerce

and one of Commits' biggest proponents, moved to head the department's Advanced

Technology Program. "Alan working with Mike [Sade] could have prevented

this problem," Welch said.

As in the original solicitation, Commits will provide systems engineering,

systems security, and systems operations and maintenance. The original winners

were chosen based primarily on past performance, which will still play a

prominent role when the department evaluates proposals. But this time, Commerce

will also factor in price proposals.

Of the original winners, 50 percent were 8(a) companies; 20 percent were

woman-owned firms; 15 percent were small, disadvantaged businesses; and

15 percent were other small businesses.

Although it is unclear how many companies will resubmit proposals, the door

is open for losing vendors to try again. Joyce Broiles-Hill, a director

at Turner, Harper & Associates Inc., an IT consulting, World Wide Web

development and security firm in Gaithersburg, Md., said she plans to do

just that. "We bid as a joint venture with another security company, and

we intend to bid that same way again," she said.

Like many vendors at the pre-proposal conference last week, Broiles-Hill

said she hoped Commerce would extend the July 7 due date, considering the

holiday and the amount of time it takes to write, review and edit a proposal.

Her firm must convert a document used for its oral presentation last year

into a written proposal.

As expected, Commerce posted amendments June 30 at www.commits. doc.gov,

which included an extension to 4 p.m., July 14. The department expects to

complete proposal evaluations July 21 and make awards Aug. 4.

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