EPA adds architecture clause to contracts

The Environmental Protection Agency has started requiring contractors to buy into the agency's enterprise architecture (EA).

The EPA has fine-tuned a clause for all information technology contracts stating that vendors understand and conform to the agency's target IT plans, chief information officer Kimberly Nelson said.

"We are really this year for the first time using the architecture to drive investments," Nelson said. "Now it's real."

She said that the EPA has a target EA in place and is looking to industry to help develop and implement it. The agency's contracting office confirmed plans to implement the refined clause a few weeks ago, she said.

Contracts have always had a section addressing the architecture, but the Office of Environmental Policy, which manages the EPA's IT policy and infrastructure, is working to more clearly define that clause now that the agency has an approved architecture, Nelson said. No new contracts have been awarded under the new provision, but IT contracts awarded in fiscal 2004 will include the requirement, she said.

The decision means the EPA will be working with vendors to educate them about the EA. "They have to understand what's there," she said. "A lot of what we're doing from a centralized standpoint is work they don't have to replicate."

EPA officials are compiling the architecture most recently submitted to the Office of Management and Budget and putting it on a CD for vendors. Nelson said they will leave out the EA's confidential parts, such as security, but that other information must be public for vendors to learn about it.

"Clearly it's a smart thing to do," she said of adding the clause. "It's difficult to do unless you have the architecture in place."

Consultant Chip Mather, senior vice president at Acquisition Solutions Inc., said he saw the move as more of a technical specification than a contract clause. He said if that is the case, it's legitimate for agencies to address those requirements in contracts. However, having such a clause requires agencies to specify the metrics for measuring compliance and the leadership to manage that oversight.

"It's a slippery slope if you're setting standards that have to be met," he said. "It's not enough to just put in a contract provision. A lot more comes with that. You have to have policies and procedures for determining whether the contractor has complied."

New or revised systems are controlled through the Capital Planning Investment Control program, and the CIO is given the responsibility of oversight by authorizing those developments, EPA officials said.

Carl Peckinpaugh, senior counsel for Computer Sciences Corp., questioned whether the provision would pre-empt some vendors from bidding for projects — for example, if the architecture included requirements some vendors could not follow. EPA officials said they didn't see circumstances where vendors would be prevented from bidding.

Mather said he anticipates seeing more agencies include these clauses as they define and approve EAs. "Generally, it's a very good thing," he said. "It's just not as easy as saying, 'Do it.' "

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