GPO picks Harris for e-information system

Harris has won a contract to develop the first digital distribution system for the Government Printing Office.

GPO officials announced today that they have awarded the company a $9.6 million one-year contract with continuation options amounting to $29 million total by the project’s completion in 2008.

The selection of a vendor marks the first major milestone in an effort to transform GPO from a 19th-century printing press operation to a 21st-century electronic information agency. Officials at the agency, which is responsible for distributing all official government information, refer to the project as the Future Digital System.

The plan is aggressive. GPO issued the request for proposals in April, giving vendors only 30 days to respond. Basic functions are expected to be ready by July 2007 and enhancements by July 2008.

Once up and running, the system will automate the collection, warehousing and dissemination of all media from all three branches of government. The materials will be permanently available in an electronic format, with electronic markings to show authenticity and version.

For example, a government contractor who wants to find the official wording of a new Defense Department rule would have trouble using a Web search tool such as Google to track it down. The contractor may find what looks like the correct Federal Register Notice, only to realize it is out of date.

With the new GPO system, the contractor could quickly find the official notice page or pages with the correct date and indication of authenticity.

The system's contents will be accessible for Web searching, viewing, downloading and printing. Document masters will also be available for conventional printing and on-demand printing.

The contract’s payment structure should give both parties flexibility to accommodate changing technology, according to GPO.

The agency issued a cost-plus-award-fee contract, in which Harris gets money for the entire cost of performing the contract plus a fee, or bonus, for good performance. Under such an agreement, the contractor is entitled to payment for unexpected costs that arise after signing the agreement, if the extra costs are justified.

That means the costs could exceed the expected $29 million, GPO Chief Technical Officer Mike Wash said. "The counterbalance of that is we have well-defined requirements of what we want," he said. "And there’s also been a lot of due diligence on Harris’ part on reviewing those requirements, which gives us comfort that [our estimates] are very accurate."

Wash said he will also rely on earned value management, an oversight method that compares current project status to original cost and timeline projections.

“We’ll know if it looks like this project is going to start costing more so we can take corrective action,” he said.

Should Harris overbill for unexpected costs, the vendor will be in a position to lose money under the cost-plus-award-fee contract.

“They are at risk for losing their bonus if they don’t deliver on time or even exceed expectations," Wash said. Therefore, the risk is shared.

Should the work and implementation fail, there is an alternative.

“We haven’t explicitly said that we have contingency plans for a backup integrator, but we received several good responses," Wash said. "If there was a problem with Harris, we know of other contractors that could be called upon."

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