The future of GWACs

Robert Coen

Rob Coen, acting director of the National Institute of Health's Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center, says his biggest challenge is explaining GWACs to federal agencies.

As the agencies that run government-wide acquisition contract providers prepare to refine and improve their offerings, officials in charge of those GWACs are thinking about how to handle some thorny issues.

Among them are strategic sourcing initiatives across government, Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and simply getting federal IT cultures to consider GWACs for their projects. All those issues figured prominently in a July 10 panel on GWACs convened by ACT-IAC in Washington, D.C.

The FAR, said Joanne Woytek, program manager for NASA's Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP), is written in a way that makes federal IT officers think they must officially justify using a GWAC for IT projects. The need for justification, she said, implies GWACs might be risky propositions for federal agencies' IT contracting choices.

Rob Coen, acting director of the National Institute of Health's Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC), said language in the FAR should be rewritten to make agency IT contracting officers justify not using an existing, proven contracting sources like GWACs. The existing language, he said, "should be flip-flopped."

Woytek, Coen and Chris Fornecker, director of the General Services Administration's GWACs, all noted that federal agency understanding of the contracting vehicles is increasing, but there is still some intractability among federal IT managers who think they have to have their own purpose-built IT projects.

"Our biggest challenge is explaining [GWACs] to federal agencies," said Coen, who added that those conversations are with both lower-level contracting officers and high-level IT executives.

GWACs face an evolving and turbulent acquisition environment. The federal government's increasing emphasis on strategic sourcing, pressure for efficiencies and changing technology all push IT managers to seek out solutions that are both effective and cost-effective.  

Those pressures are being addressed in the next-generation GWAC contracts that NIH, NASA and GSA are currently putting together.

Fornecker said GSA would probably have a draft request for information for vendors in support of its Alliant II GWAC, which covers complex IT services, by October. He said the agency aggressively solicited public input on how the GWAC would work, much like GSA did for its One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services (OASIS) contract. The aim, he said, was to make Alliant II more flexible and workable with emerging technologies.

Vendor contracts for SEWP V, the fifth iteration of NASA's GWAC, could come this summer, Woytek said. That contract is also the result of intensive conversations with customers about their needs and preferences.

Coen, Fornecker and Woytek also said that despite complaints about multiple GWACs and contract proliferation across the federal government more generally, their vehicles can actually help reduce that proliferation. GWACs, they said, offer proven technologies from vetted vendors at negotiated prices -- and give agencies a manageable way to shop around.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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Reader comments

Fri, Jul 11, 2014

For once I agree with Agency GWAC Managers! For service acquisitions below $10M GWACs are the way to go. It speeds the process, with competition you can get very competitive pricing, and the cost is less than an Agency will pay their lawyers for a stand alone solicition process. What's not to like! And this is coming from a former KO who is now a contractor who doesn't hold any GWACs!

Fri, Jul 11, 2014 Al

Also, many of these GWACs are fixed rate contracts. The lore is that those are riskier than fixed price, and uniquely disadvantageous to the Government. I question that more strongly the older I get, my problem with fixed rate contracts is that they allow an agency to forego a lot of project planning.

Fri, Jul 11, 2014 Al

You use the words "Strategic sourcing", and then discuss GWACs. Are these now considered the same? GWACs are hunting licenses for contractors- is there now cross-agency coordination and joint agency procurements occurring which were not in the past? Don't want your readers to think that GWACs=strategic sourcing, but please correct me if I am mistaken.

Fri, Jul 11, 2014 Washington DC

Being a GWAC means garnering, negotiating and offering both standard and unique items (incluiding services) and allowing access to the entire Government to review and buy. Efforts should be put for to educate IT Program Executives, Project Managers and Acquisition Officials toward the concept that GWACs are like COSTCO, BJ's and SAM's Club. GWACs serve as shopping venues that have negotiated deals with merchants (IT Contractors.) These competing stores carry SOME of the exact same brands, quantity and types. But, there are those instances where a merchant (or emerging technology) is available through only one Store. Competition is improved by allowing multiple merchants to package unique or COTS solutions to which the entire Government Marketplace has access. Buying at a boutique still allows the buyer to review competition and quality but it is done so at the expense of doing all the research each time you want to make a purchase. Vendors are continuously vetted for pricing and performance on GWACs, Government Officials should weigh the ROI when selecting a boutique or using a GWAC type contract for standard or unique IT services and products.

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