NIH taps 66 for ECS III

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The National Institutes of Health has repositioned its popular Electronic Commodity Store contract as a source of desktop computing products for homeland security-related initiatives.

In selecting 66 vendors for the 10-year, $6 billion ECS III, NIH sought companies with high-level clearances and the ability to deliver orders within seven days — a requirement of the heightened security following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We want to make this the homeland security vehicle of choice," said Elmer Sembly, communications director at NIH's Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC), which manages the contract.

ECS II, awarded to 45 vendors in 1997, handled $1.2 billion in business, according to NIH.

ECS III, like ECS II, features three product categories — personal computer products, workstation products and network equipment. ECS III also includes many off-the-shelf products in demand for homeland security, such as biometric tools and handheld electronic devices, Sembly said. Federal agencies pay a 1 percent fee when buying from the contracting vehicle.

The diverse ECS III roster includes 13 large businesses, 29 small businesses and 24 small disadvantaged businesses. Nearly 90 companies applied for the contract, and procurement officials took an extra two months to come up with the final list and run vendors through a technical checklist.

Larry Allen, executive vice president of the Coalition for Government Procurement, a Washington, D.C., industry group, said ECS III is the "first established program that has recast itself" as a homeland security vehicle.

"They are moving very aggressively to market the program as an alternative to the [General Services Administration] schedule and trying to establish brand identity," Allen said. "A number of programs that started at the same time [as ECS] are looking for reasons to continue being. This would be one way to do it."

Alan Bechara, president and general manager of PC Mall Gov, a reseller of microcomputer products, said he is ecstatic that his company was selected for ECS III. Although PC Mall lacks a security clearance, it has arrangements with partners that do.

"It means a great deal for us," Bechara said. "This program is designed to take advantage of our strength.... Our comfort zone is in the delivery of high-speed competitive processes. [Buyers] can shop for whatever they need without leaving their desks."

Vendors came up with various unusual arrangements to speed federal government buys. CDW-G Inc., a technology solutions company selected by ECS III, is partnering with Science Applications International Corp. to integrate customer needs.

SAIC will provide systems integration and infrastructure services, and CDW-G will provide rapid access to hardware and software so customers can simultaneously select products they need and IT support services.

In another partnership, Digital Management Inc., a small, minority-owned firm, will provide products and services on ECS III from companies such as Nortel Networks Ltd. and IBM Corp. and services from such firms as Spectrum Network Solutions.

"This is a great opportunity for Digital Management Inc. to provide next- generation products and services to NIH," said company president Jay Sunny Bajaj.

The contract vehicle is likely to attract a large customer base. The ECS II contract, which expired in September, made $1.2 billion during five years.

Sembly said procurement officials did a lot of work before the selection process began, setting up standards for the contract and for homeland security needs.

"It is very broad in scope," Sembly said. "We do not believe there are many commodities that you wouldn't have here."


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