OASIS creates thirst for answers

pen and contract

The General Services Administration released a shortened business case for its One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services (OASIS) in January, but experts are still unsure how officials can consolidate services acquisitions into large enough buys to make strategic sourcing work for them, one of OASIS's top goals.

The President's Management Advisory Board plans to meet Feb. 22 to discuss what's ahead in 2013 and hear reports from officials on adopting the board's previous recommendations, such as broadening strategic sourcing. OASIS raises the question of whether federal officials are hauling the strategic sourcing initiative into uncharted territories with the move to complex professional services.

During a panel discussion Jan. 31 at the Strategic Sourcing Forum, industry experts questioned how GSA officials can set up labor categories and arrange appropriate pay rates when the circumstances of each purchase can vary widely or even so subtly. Influences from the market climate at a certain time, an agency's immediate need or even the conditions of the work environment each can change the price an agency may have to pay.

"Driving people to these cost structures would have a union-like look to it," and people have walked away from the federal market if they feel too squeezed in, said Dale Luddeke, senior vice president and chief growth officer at TASC Inc. "People will begin to look for other things to do if they are somehow forced into a labor rate when they know they can get paid better someplace else."

On top of that, Luddeke said by the time the government and industry work out a labor rate for a particular service, the market may have changed enough to throw the agreement out of whack.

"This has a lot of little nuances to it," he said about OASIS on its standard labor categories.

Strategic sourcing, so far, has dealt with generally run-of-the-mill products, such as office supplies and even wireless telecommunications devices. And there are few nuances. The advisory board has pushed these governmentwide vehicles, even mandating their use when it's appropriate. The board also wants more data on prices and costs since officials say it would help in the decision-making process.

It's an initiative that works "when we're buying paper clips," said Trey Hodgkins, senior vice president of TechAmerica's global public sector team.

With the variations and nuances of professional services, Jim Ghiloni, the program executive officer for OASIS, said first the standard labor categories "allow us to talk to each other." It's a vocabulary that agencies and the private sector can use to communicate. "A civilian engineer is a civilian engineer," he said, although there are differences in rates due to factors, such as experience and expertise. That creates what Ghiloni described as the pricing "bell curve."

GSA wants to gather the pricing data in light of the various differences of a service and then publish that information. The curve will show the highest and lowest prices and everything in between. From the curve, agencies can compare what they paid and how much one contractor charges for the same service compared to another. To understand the market better, GSA wants to give contracting officers more data so they can estimate a fair and reasonable price in that competitive environment. Then agencies can make more informed choices, which allows for better procurement planning.

"The expectation is that the bell curve shrinks," Ghiloni said. "Shrinking that curve over time will result in savings for the government."

On the contractor side, companies with a higher price will have to justify their prices to agencies. They may also have to ask themselves why their prices are higher than the competition.

"There's always a bell curve, but it gets smaller," Ghiloni said.

GSA officials have released a redacted business case for OASIS. Meanwhile, waiting for a draft request for proposals, industry and the government are left with questions about flexibility in the market and the risk to meet an agency's mission, among procedural and regulatory concerns. Industry warned agencies may suffer as they may opt to avoid the highest quality services for the sake of the lowest price technically acceptable—a term that makes industry shudder.

"If you are going to drive down prices to the point where you are going to limit the flexibility of companies to be able to provide best-in-class services, then this is not going to be an effective vehicle for people to be able to use," said Roger Waldron, president of the Coalition for Government Procurement.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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Reader comments

Fri, Feb 15, 2013 SPMayor Summit Point, WV

While I can understand the concerns of small business I think we need to keep in mind the current strategy to award both an OASIS small business and an OASIS unrestriced. I would think the more critical issue for small business is the similarity or difference between the two planned awards. If the scope of offered services under each contract are essentially similar how will the Government determine under which contract the work is to be done? Small business, and in my view large businesses, should be pressing GSA to concurrently develop client user guidance that will assist in making this decision as early as possible in the requirements definition stage as is practical. This determination, communicated to both unrestricted and small business contract holders, will allow firms to know what is in play and what isn't. If the services of the two contracts are different then the Government still needs to provide guidance to client users on the differences. I believe the day is not far off when the rule of two will be applied to to communities of contracts [unrestrictred & set-aside] where the scope of services are sufficiently similar to question selection of one community over another.

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 Peter Tuttle, CPCM

OccupyIT makes a valid comment about bunding and friendly large businesses that shoud create concern for any small IT company monitoring the progress of OASIS. Consolidation may inadvertently convert into bundling once again and leave small business in the dust one more time.

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 SPMayor Summit Point, WV

Which came first - OASIS or strategic sourcing? Before strategic sourcing was a glimmer in anyone's eye [a bit exaggerated but you get the point] GSA was moving forward on OASIS when it was known as Integrations. It would seem that SSI was added as an afterthought - some would say to get OMB/OFPP approval, others would say to curry favor. In either case, the SSI tag has noticeably changed how contractors view the opportunity. The SSI moniker has now cast a shadow of uncertainty - a shadow that will remain until the draft is released and fears confirmed or put to rest.

Thu, Feb 14, 2013

I believe the concept of strategic sourcing has been improperly applied to OASIS. If GSA establishes this vehicle to be as flexible and comprehensive as the Alliant GWAC, the established labor categories and rates simply become a data point for GSA to use in making the initial contract awards. The majority of work performed under this vehicle would not be T&M, but is likely to be fixed price or cost reimbursible. Competition on the resulting task orders will drive pricing as we have seen on most multiple award vehicles. I would expect GSA to create a useful contract vehicle with broad scope and a significant number of awardees to drive meaningful competition for task orders. As the article states, sourcing complex services is not the same as procuring pencils and we should not expect the process or contract vehicles to devolve to that level of simplification.

Thu, Feb 14, 2013 OccupyIT

Well, the Mythical Man Month lives - and sponsored by empire builder GSA no less! Yay! People do what you pay them to do and if you reduce excellence in execution to miles of men and pounds of women you get what you deserve. If you are not delivering economic items with provable economies of scale then strategic sourcing is just bundling (which the FAR proscribes if anybody still remembers that) and picking friendly large businesses and gifting them with revenue (think FedRamp preferences for only evaluating the usual suspects). Strategic sourcing of human talent is so dangerously misguided and archaic in its focus on inputs to program success instead of outputs. Think about it, this is the antithesis of performance-based acquisition and anti-competitive. But alas, GSA has more PR dollars than anyone else and no oversight so I'm sure this will be this Administrators career feather.... right before he is arrested or resigns like his predecessors (not a specific comment about Mr. Tangherlini, btw).

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