HHS releases first RFP under Buyers Club

The Department of Health and Human Services has issued the first procurement initiative under its innovative Buyers Club program in an effort to open a new avenue for agency contracting officers and vendors and pave the way for bigger IT projects.

Mark Naggar, a procurement adviser for HHS' Buyers Club, told FCW in an interview that a solicitation issued Aug. 6 by the department's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) reflects some of the procedural tweaks and fine-tuning that could ultimately help spark a solution to the federal government's IT acquisition problems.

"We have an eye out for early adopters for new approaches" at HHS, said Naggar, who works under HHS Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak and is on loan as an acquisition expert from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "ASPE is one of those. They're willing to look at things with an open mind."

In the request for proposals, ASPE asks for help in implementing a platform and technical infrastructure for its websites, databases and software development environments; implementing a Web content management system and software package; redesigning public and intranet websites; and migrating those websites and databases into the content management system.

Naggar acknowledges that ASPE's aims are modest when compared to other large IT projects. But he said the impact of the techniques would multiply when the program is scaled up.

He added that larger IT procurements under the Buyers Club initiative are in the works but declined to provide details on projects or their timelines. He hopes to convene "industry days" ahead of those large procurements to discuss the problems the agency is trying to solve.

'Look under the hood'

ASPE's RFP provides some insight into how the Buyers Club will approach larger projects.

For instance, Naggar said, the solicitation package does not start with a traditional, proscribed "statement of work" but rather a looser "statement of objective" of what the agency hopes to accomplish with the project. Officials will also use a "down select" process to narrow the field by choosing as many as five vendors with the best ideas described in eight-page concept papers. Those semi-finalists will be given $10,000 to create prototypes of their ideas "to see what they can do."

Naggar said that approach allows companies to focus on building websites and content management systems instead of drafting long proposals.

To give the five vendors a clear perspective on what the agency needs, the procurement team included Web links and intranet screen captures in the RFP, Naggar said. "It lets them look under the hood and see the real-world structure," he said.

The timeline is also compressed. The RFP gives offerors two weeks to submit an initial concept paper, after which agency officials will choose five submissions, and then those companies will have three weeks to develop proof-of-concept prototypes, which the government will own.

Those chosen for the second stage will participate in a two-hour question-and-answer session about the program's requirements. A technical evaluation board will judge the submissions and make a final award.

According to Naggar, the process gives contractors a chance to show off what they can do rather than just write about it. The prototype gives the evaluation board a working example of the company's capabilities and streamlines the competition process by minimizing the upfront effort involved in being considered for an award.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer at FCW.

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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