NIH Gears Up for New GWAC Opportunity

Special Report: GWAC Buyer's Guide

By Brian Robinson

The third version of the National Institutes of Health’s Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners (CIO-SP) governmentwide acquisition contract is slated as a follow-on contract, but in some ways it’s a completely different animal.

First, the NIH Information Technology Assessment and Acquisition Center (NITAAC), has completely revamped the way it runs its GWACs. A sophisticated Web site and online tools promise a much smoother experience for users, and they include an e-ordering system that has stripped turnaround times to just hours in many instances.

Current CIO-SP2i (CIO-SP 2 Innovations) customers have gotten a taste of that, but for CIO-SP3 users, it’s the only environment they will know.

Additionally, CIO-SP3 will be closely tied to the Federal Health Architecture (FHA), which is the means by which all federal agency efforts backing national health care information technology initiatives will be coordinated. More than 20 military and civilian agencies will need to install IT systems that will allow them to securely move health information among one another and with state, tribal and local governments, and private industry.

A draft request for proposals (RFP) for CIO-SP3 points to bioinformatics and electronic health records as featured areas within the GWAC’s scope that support FHA, although other task areas also support architecture objectives.

The RFP’s specific objective is to obtain health-related IT expertise that will relate to all of the contract’s 10 task areas, said Mary Armstead, NITAAC’s new program director, though the GWAC’s traditional objective to provide “any and all IT” for its customers will also continue.

“But based on where [the government] is now with health care initiatives, we saw this as an excellent opportunity to extend CIO-SP’s functionality,” Armstead said.

Every vendor on CIO-SP3 will have to have expertise with health IT, said Rob Coen, NITAAC’s deputy program director, and extensive experience with general IT solutions and services.

CIO-SP3 is the latest in the line of CIO-SP GWACs that stretches back to 1996, when NIH became one of the first federal agencies to get authorization from the Office of Federal Procurement Policy to run a GWAC. The new $20 billion, 10-year contract will also incorporate the functions of NIH’s Image World 2 GWAC, which, like CIO-SP2i, expires at the end of this year.

Imaging will be a separate task area under CIO-SP3. These are the systems and services that support the collection, storage, and retrieval of digital images, inlcuding scanned documents, medical images, geographical information systems, video and photographs.

NIH intends to award an almost identical version of the contract just for small businesses that would also have a $20 billion ceiling. However, it would have a user fee of 0.75 percent vs.1 percent for the main GWAC.

“We like the idea of small-business vendors having a playground of their own because it affords them a certain amount of protection they wouldn’t have without this set-aside,” Armstead said. “We have very high expectations for it.”

Other task areas in the CIO-SP3 contract will include CIO support, outsourcing, IT operations and maintenance, integration services, critical infrastructure protection and information assurance, digital government, enterprise management systems, and software development.

In addition to support for FHA, CIO-SP3 will follow what seems to be the norm for GWAC recompetes by also making sure its task areas support the federal enterprise architecture, including non-IT components such as supply-chain management and collection of metrics for agencies’ Performance Reference Models.

CIO-SP3 will be one of the flagship contracts for the future NITAAC, which has undergone a complete business overhaul spearheaded by Coen. When he arrived at the center in early 2009, following a stint at the Small Business Administration, he brought with him the idea of customer service as a prelude for good contract performance, with examples of what that has done for the success of NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement, for instance.

Coen created a new business development approach that sent NIH representatives into the field to explain to agencies the advantages of using vehicles such as GWACs and to train those agencies’ acquisition shops about the specifics of CIO-SP2i, Image World 2 and other contracts, and how they could use them to fulfill their IT requirements.

The Web site and e-ordering are the other side of this revamped approach. Users can now access the system online and upload their contracting requirements, Coen said. All task and delivery can now be fulfilled electronically, and NITAAC says users can also complete online their RFPs or requests for quotes in 10 minutes or less.

Statement-of-work reviews will be turned around within 24 hours, as will any queries and questions users have.

“We make sure the [statements of work] are compliant with all federal regulations, and we’ll let them know if we think we can offer anything to make their requirements better or more specific to their needs,” Coen said. “We’ll do anything that we think can add value.”

The one thing that isn’t clear yet is when the CIO-SP3 GWAC will be awarded and opened for business. There have been reports that NIH is still negotiating with OFPP about a continuation of its authority to run GWACs, and as of June 1, the final RFP for CIO-SP3 had not been released.

With the existing CIO-SP2i and Image World 2 contracts expiring in December, there may be a need for a short-term extension of those to bridge the gap to CIO-SP3, Armstead said.