GSA's growing stable of SINs
- By Mark Rockwell
- Jun 16, 2017
The General Services Administration’s special item numbers, or SINs, aren’t transgressive, as the acronym might suggest. They’re transactional and part of GSA’s effort to keep up with evolving technology and reduce the number of specialized IT contracts, according to a key agency official.
GSA has added five specialized SINs for IT products and services in the past two years and is counting on the numbers to help agencies view and order increasingly specialized products and services in its Schedule 70 multiple-award contract related to cloud, geospatial, Continuous Diagnostics and Mitigation (CDM), cybersecurity and health IT.
Jose Arrieta, director of the Office of IT Schedule Contract Operations at GSA, said the goal is to give agencies a clearer path through existing contracts rather than creating their own.
“The multiple-award programs are super flexible,” he said in an interview with FCW, yet agencies and companies sometimes overlook the contracts’ ability to fill increasingly complex IT needs because it requires sifting through a bewildering and lengthy roster of offerings, especially on a vehicle as vast as Schedule 70.
But SINs show how flexible and useful existing schedules can be, Arrieta added. They also support other federal acquisition efficiency efforts, such as category management, and can help the government keep up with rapidly changing technology.
Before the SINs, GSA was getting pushback from agencies concerned about duplication of IT contracts and from industry partners who said keeping up with all the schedules was becoming difficult and expensive, Arrieta said.
Now “we can onboard companies in 36 days because of the SINs’ flexibility,” he added.
So far, GSA has established SINs for highly adaptive cybersecurity services and health IT services. The Earth observation SIN is under development, in conjunction with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency; it’s expected to debut in June.
SINs for CDM and cloud products and services are “in flight,” Arrieta said.
According to GSA, there are already 65 approved vendors on the cloud SIN and several in the pipeline, which are being expedited for approval. The Department of Homeland Security’s Enterprise Computing Services program plans to use the SIN to give DHS’ component agencies readier access to cloud services. ECS’ initial contract awards were protested, however, so the agency is in the process of re-evaluating.
GSA issued a request for information on March 22 for the CDM SIN and convened an industry day on April 17 to solicit input on how to manage the effort. Although GSA is pushing forward on all the specialized SINs, there is some special urgency for CDM. About 169,000 tools and services are available through the dedicated contract that GSA manages for DHS, but the blanket purchase agreement expires in August 2018.
Jim Piché, a sector director at GSA’s Federal Systems Integration and Management Center, told FCW in March that the SIN will play a big role as DHS and GSA gear up for the next phase of the CDM program. It will ensure that all the work done to approve and catalog products and services for the current BPA is not lost when that contract expires.
The Earth observation SIN, meanwhile, is an example of trying to harness a galloping technology for agencies. “You can buy images” of Earth, Arrieta said, “but you can’t do it second by second.” New technologies are making that immediate access possible as more companies enter an increasingly commercial market for using those images in all sorts of applications.
The Earth observation SIN will capitalize on NGA’s Commercial Initiative to Buy Operationally Responsive GEOINT.
Arrieta said ideas for new SINs come from a number of sources, including a single agency’s request or a group seeking help on a common problem. However, GSA “doesn’t take the creation of SINs lightly,” he added.
The agency does its homework on markets, technology and other details, such as which niches or broad markets a SIN would serve, and creates a solid business case before moving ahead.
“The whole process can take three to six months,” Arrieta said, but the process of forming the idea with industry and agencies takes longer.
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, tele.com 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.
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