Too many primes?

The National Institutes of Health's Electronic Commodity Store contracts have been hailed as among the government's best.

Ironically, this success may be a drawback in the case of NIH's ECS III. ECS' reputation is such that 90 suitors pursued ECS III. NIH last year eventually awarded 66 prime contracts. A few vendors have privately expressed concern that such a sizable field may dilute the vehicle, turning it into a General Services Administration schedule of sorts.

But officials at the NIH Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center say this ample roster is part and parcel of the office's effort to encourage niche companies to bid as prime contractors. And some industry observers believe the wider field will benefit agency customers.

"If you're the government, you have a broader range of service providers and a wider range of products and services from which to draw," said David Nadler, a partner with Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky LLP in Washington, D.C.

For prime contractors, ECS III provides a license to hunt for business, which could total $6 billion over 10 years. But the high-ticket estimate is no guarantee, Nadler said. He noted that a handful of vendors typically grab the lion's share of the revenue on governmentwide acquisition contracts.

As for ECS III becoming another GSA schedule, Nadler believes the program's homeland security orientation is an attempt at differentiation. The more this branding strategy works, the further ECS III will separate itself from GSA, he said.

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