Army filters AKO vendors

Army officials screened companies prior to the release of the request for proposals —expected soon— for the Army Knowledge Online Enterprise Services procurement to determine whether they meet the requirements for the multimillion-dollar deal.

Under a procurement option called an advisory downselect, Army officials asked vendors for information about how they would run the Web portal. After reviewing the responses, Army officials encouraged a handful of companies to submit bids. A number of industry officials familiar with the procurement named at least seven companies that were asked to bid on the project: CherryRoad Technologies, the current operator of Army Knowledge Online; IBM; Lockheed Martin; Northrop Grumman; SI International; Science Applications International Corp.; and Computer Sciences Corp.

Government contracting and acquisition officials are increasingly using advisory downselects to make procurements move faster. Downselects often create more work earlier in the process but less work in later stages, said Phil Butler, a principal at Phil Butler and Associates.

Procurement officials "receive four or five large proposals instead of 12," Butler said. "This also diminishes chances of making mistakes."

Company officials can still submit bids when program proposals get released. But downselecting foreshadows how they may fare in a solicitation, Butler said.

The government information technology consultant said this procurement method also makes the bidding process cheaper for vendors who have little chance of winning a contract. "They are a lot less unhappy because they haven't spent a lot of money," he said.

Army Knowledge Online has 1.7 million subscribers compared with 61,000 four years ago, and Army officials want a company to manage that growth and complete updates to the portal. "They now have a longer-term vision for it," said Bob Guerra, a partner in Guerra, Kiviat and Flyzik Associates.

For example, officials originally thought soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq would only use the portal for e-mail and non-classified documents. But they also use the classified portion of the site to discuss the enemy's tactics. Family members, retired Army employees and the service's contractors still use it for e-mail and to access warfighting documents.

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