Education says, ‘Do it all’
Department’s EDUCATE procurement will make contractors shoulder more IT risk
- By Mary Mosquera
- Jun 04, 2007
Education Department Utility for Communications, Applications, and Technical Environment (EDUCATE)
The Education Department’s decision not to renew its information technology services contract with Computer Sciences Corp. is part of a wholesale rethinking of how the department wants to provide IT services in the future. Education’s top IT official said the department must rely on IT services and infrastructure owned and operated by contractors to effectively support its mission.
The department’s recent outsourcing solicitation covers almost every IT service, from program-specific and agencywide business applications to servers, storage devices, phone and voice-messaging systems, telecommunications and network equipment, security and privacy devices, equipment racks, and cabling.
Under the solicitation — named the Education Department Utility for Communications, Applications and Technical Environment (EDUCATE) — senior officials want a vendor to provide around-the-clock services and equipment for desktop and help-desk support for the department’s 5,200 employees.
The contractor must also provide data center, network, printer, e-mail and disaster recovery services for all Education facilities. The contract will include cross-functional services, such as billing, auditing, project management, records management, assistive technology, training, and security and privacy information assurance, among others.
The contract will provide department officials with an electronic dashboard that displays real-time metrics on the contractor’s performance and monitors all service-level agreements.
“What this really does is help us shift risk to where we need it to be and consolidate responsibility down to a more manageable footprint,” said Bill Vajda, Education’s chief information officer. “When different parties have different responsibilities in running the operation, it increases the amount of overhead you need to successfully coordinate the outcome you’re looking for.”
A trend toward IT services owned and operated by contractors is occurring in the private sector, and government is increasingly considering that approach, said Jonathan Breul, executive director of the IBM Center for the Business of Government and partner at IBM’s Global Business Services. Government wants around-the-clock capabilities, Breul said.
“They’re worried about their mission,” he said. Agencies want to leave responsibility for technology and support to contractors and let contractors worry about the assets, he added.
Until now, Education has provided IT services with government-owned software and equipment, much of it maintained and operated by contractors. That was the model for the 10-year, $176 million EDNet contract that the department awarded to CSC in 2005. The contract is approaching the end of its first option year after completing a base period and will not be extended, Vajda said. Education also is reviewing other IT contracts as part of the overhaul.
Vajda said the changes have the support of senior department officials and the inspector general, despite a new IG report that highlighted weaknesses in the department’s management of the EDNet contract.
In its report on the EDNet contract, the IG’s office found that the department lacked effective incentives and disincentives to enforce an acceptable level of performance from the contractor. The report states, for example, that Education did not properly evaluate a contract modification to determine whether a reduction in payment was appropriate for the effort necessary to achieve an acceptable level of performance.
“Services provided during the base year were rated as unacceptable, and the department’s ability to improve performance was hampered,” wrote John Higgins, the IG. Education has since put in place a plan based on the IG’s recommendations for improving the contractor’s performance, Higgins said.
A CSC spokesman said the company is talking with Education officials to resolve the contracting issues mentioned in the IG report. “CSC absolutely applauds the Department of Education’s venture into the world of performance-based contracts using best commercial practices,” said Chuck Taylor, CSC’s spokesman. Regarding CSC’s alleged performance issues, Taylor said, “we are working those differences of opinion with the department in private.”
The IG’s report added weight to the changes Education is making, Vajda said. He added that lessons learned from the audit have been folded into the EDUCATE solicitation.
“It’s been well-known that the department hasn’t invested in this area in a long time,” Vajda said. “Now it’s getting a lot of focus.”
EDUCATE will have a base period of 14 months for the transition and initial operations period and nine one-year options. Proposals are due July 16. Vajda said the department hopes to award a contract in September, before the end of the fiscal year.