Acquisition

Lawmakers push back on STARS shutoff date

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The General Services Administration extended the ceiling of its popular governmentwide small business contract vehicle STARS II in June but also made changes that place limits on the period of performance that has some lawmakers complaining.

GSA raised the ceiling value of the 8(a) Streamlined Technology Application Resource for Services II governmentwide acquisition contract from $15 billion to $22 billion as the contract vehicle was about to hit its limit. But that change included scaling back period of performance deadlines for contract task orders from August 30, 2024 to June 30, 2022, according to a July 28 letter to the agency from House Government Operations Subcommittee Chairman Gerry Connolly (D-Va.).

In his letter, Connolly told the General Services Administration that although lawmakers welcomed the decision to raise the STARS II ceiling, the shorter POP deadlines "will have several unintended consequences" that GSA and the Small Business Administration should take a closer look at. Those changes could affect almost 800 contractors.

The letter, addressed to to GSA Administrator Emily Murphy and Small Business Administrator Jovita Carranza was co-signed by Reps. Donald Beyer (D-Va.), Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.), as well as Sens. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.).

House Oversight Committee Member Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sent a similar letter to the GSA on July 27 asking it to explain the changes and noting that, "the reduced period of performance may make it difficult for federal agencies to contract with STARS II industry partners."

Connolly and Holmes Norton asked GSA to respond to their questions about the changes by Aug. 14.

A GSA spokesperson told FCW that "the reduced period of performance only applies to the new $7 billion added to the ceiling," not work awarded under the original value of the contract or under prior ceiling increases. "It ensures that the over 200 firms currently in the 8(a) program can be awarded 8(a) STARS II work, and allows for the more than 500 graduated 8(a) STARS II contract holders to seek and receive additional orders under the contract. The reduced period of performance aligns with STARS III availability and preserves future performance by current 8(a) Program Participants on 8(a) STARS III with little overlap in the two contracts."

GSA is working to get a solicitation for the contract’s successor out by the end of September. The 8(a) STARS III vehicle, however, won't be available for a year or longer, said Connolly.

July 2021, he said, is the earliest federal agencies could begin using 8(a) STARS III.

Connolly's letter said any delay in that contract's award could push the start date out even further, noting that a delay is probable.

"GSA would likely be hard pressed to identify a large information technology [governmentwide acquisition contract] that was awarded according to schedule, and in fact, GSA officials were unable to do so during a staff briefing with House and Senate offices," he said.

The 8(a) STARS II contract has been critical for federal agencies in their IT response to COVID-19, according to Connolly.

Although arcane, the changes will force federal agencies to scramble to move to other contracts or plans because the shortened periods of performance could cancel their 8(a) STARS II bidding proposals either outright, or in mid-stream, said James Fontana, managing partner at Tysons, Va.-based contracting law firm Dempsey Fontana.

The main concern for small businesses on the contract, said Fontana in an Aug. 5 email to FCW, is changing the task order completion deadline from four to less than two years.

"GSA did this in the name of maintaining the flow of critical services in the wake of COVID-19, which is counterintuitive considering that the change will actually reduce the flow of services under this contracting vehicle," he said.

This story was updated Aug. 6 to include comment from the General Services Administration

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, 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.

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


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