Alliant grows with experience
Agencies rely on expertise for cloud computing and other emerging technology requirements
The General Services Administration’s Alliant governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC), though known for facilitating large, complex information technology (IT) projects, is fast becoming a popular vehicle for also helping agencies meet their cloud computing and other emerging technology needs.
Since GSA acquired e-mail cloud services using Alliant in 2010, four other agencies have stepped forward to purchase cloud services through Alliant, officials said. Agencies also are issuing and preparing task orders for virtualization, data center consolidation, and other projects tied to the White House’s “25 Point Implementation Plan to Reform Federal Information Technology Management.”
“The Alliant team has established itself as a trusted advisor to helping agencies acquire the technologies and solutions they need,” said Richard Blake, Alliant Business Management Specialist. “We’re beginning to see a great deal of velocity around cloud and other technologies that are top of mind for Chief Information Officers.”
Because the Alliant contract is aligned with the Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) and Department of Defense Enterprise Architecture (DODEA), it can support a wide variety of IT programs, including new technologies that were not contemplated when the vehicle was created, said Alliant Program Manager Casey Kelley.
In just three years, 43 of Alliant’s 58 contract holders have been awarded task orders by 39 different agencies. Altogether, agencies have issued 214 task orders worth $8.9 billion through Alliant. “This is a very broad-based IT solutions contract that can handle a diversity of technologies and requirements,” Kelley said. “Alliant offers agencies the full range of IT services and contract types based on their need and risk.”
Expanding Across Government
Alliant is a competitive multiple-award, indefinite delivery, indefinite-quantity (IDIQ) GWAC with a $50 billion ceiling. The 10-year contract began in May 2009 and replaces GSA’s three expired legacy enterprise GWACs: ANSWER, Millennia and Millennia Lite. All federal agencies can issue task orders through Alliant to obtain information technology services and solutions from Alliant’s 58 prime contractors. GSA also offers technology services through the Alliant Small Business (Alliant SB) GWAC, which has 69 certified small businesses. (See page XX for article on Alliant SB.)
Alliant is a self-funding program that charges a contract access fee (CAF) of 0.75 percent to cover the costs of the services it provides. However, the CAF is capped at $150,000 annually per task order, so that task orders of $20 million or more in annual spending will not incur fees exceeding $150,000 per year.
Agency spending through Alliant has grown steadily in the past three years. Among Alliant’s more prominent projects, the Department of State issued a $2.5 billion task order to SAIC for its Vanguard 2.2.1 program to design, operate and maintain, and secure the department’s enterprise IT infrastructures; and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an $867 million task order to General Dynamics to develop an integrated network infrastructure for the new DHS consolidated headquarters at the St. Elizabeths’ campus in Washington, DC. Altogether, agencies have issued more than 200 task orders worth an average of about $42 million each through Alliant.
The range of work performed under Alliant can be seen in a sampling of its task orders, such as help desk and customer support for the Air Force, IT infrastructure refresh for the Department of Justice, back office services for the Environmental Protection Agency, and information assurance and cybersecurity for the Department of Agriculture (see Chart XX ). “In addition to the high-profile projects, Alliant can bring value to smaller, challenging technology projects as well,” Blake said.
Operating Like a Business
Because Alliant is a self-funding program, officials focus intensely on customer service and providing value-added services. “We recognize that without our customers, we don’t exist, and so we operate as much like a business as we can,” Kelley said.
Over the past three years, Kelley and his staff have been expanding their customer tools and services. For example, they have worked closely with Alliant’s contract holders to identify and then incorporate best practices from other GWACs, multiple award contracts, and IDIQ programs. In collaboration with contract holders, the Alliant staff also generates leads from potential agency customers by talking with agencies about their IT requirements, educating them about Alliant, and helping them assess whether Alliant is the right fit for their needs. “After you create a contract vehicle, it’s the services that you provide that accentuate its value and make it attractive to customers,” Kelley said.
Alliant officials say the vehicle offers agencies numerous advantages:
• Savings of time and money. The work the Alliant program has already undertaken to qualify contractors could take up to two years and millions of dollars for an agency to do on its own, while the procurement lead time for an Alliant solicitation typically ranges from just 70 days to 90 days.
• A broad scope. Because Alliant is aligned with the FEA and DODEA, it gives agencies access to new and emerging technologies.
• Full spectrum of contract types. Agencies can issue any type of contract, such as firm fixed price, time and materials, or cost plus, including hybrid combinations.
• Access to the top providers of IT services and solutions. Alliant’s 58 contract holders represent the top government contractors across a wide range of capabilities.
• Robust competition. On average, agencies have received 3.6 offers per solicitation under Alliant.
• Low protest rate. Of more than 200 task order issued under Alliant, only five have been protested—none of which that have been sustained.
• Multiple services and tools to assist agencies. Alliant provides agencies with numerous free-of-charge services that make the contract easy to use and help agencies acquire the IT solutions they need, such as training, an ordering guide, Statement of Work reviews, sample Statements of Work (SOWs) of actual competed (redacted) solicitations under Alliant, and SOW templates.
Peter Tseronis, Chief Technology Officer for the Department of Energy, says agencies should consider using Alliant and other GSA contracting vehicles before conducting their own competitions. “Going to GSA first is part of an agency’s due diligence,” he said.
Tseronis recommended that agency representatives meet with GSA officials to discuss their requirements and help them determine whether a GSA vehicle can meet their needs. Agencies can also review the past performance of contractors on programs such as Alliant, and they can also talk informally with other agencies about their experiences.
“Alliant and other GSA programs are more than just contract vehicles,” Tseronis said. “They provide an overarching service that reduces much of the time-consuming and costly effort to conduct a competition to find the right vendor and solution.”
Growing Popularity of GWACs
In recent years, federal agencies have been increasing their use of existing GWACs and other multi-agency contracts, according to government and industry officials, who point to a number of factors to explain their popularity. For example, the Office of Management and Budget now requires agencies to write a business case to justify creating a new IDIQ contract rather than using an existing vehicle such as Alliant. In addition, agencies that have urgent requirements are finding that Alliant and other vehicles offer a faster acquisition cycle.
“Agencies find it’s a whole lot easier to use an existing vehicle where the terms and conditions have already been established,” said Ray Bjorklund, chief knowledge officer at market research firm Deltek. “And when the ordering process has been worked out and the contractors are experienced in working under the contract, the process goes more quickly.”
Alliant officials said recommended changes in acquisition regulations could spur even greater use of the contract. For example, the proposed Senate bill, “Acquisition Savings Reform Act of 2011,” introduced in October, would require agencies to conduct a “best interest determination” if they do not use the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI), which includes GWACs such as Alliant. In essence, the legislation would encourage agencies to look at Alliant and other vehicles before creating their own contracts.
Small Business Subcontracting Credits
Another proposed rule change would amend the Small Business Act to allow agencies using Alliant, GSA schedules, and other vehicles to receive small business subcontracting credits. Currently, GSA receives the credit for subcontracting work that occurs under Alliant. “We have found that some agencies are not inclined to use an interagency contract vehicle because they are trying to meet their own agency’s small business subcontracting goals, but are losing credit to the hosting agency,” said Paul Martin, Alliant Contracts Branch Chief.
Alliant’s small business subcontracting revenue has been increasing each year and last year reached $89.4 million—or 36 percent of total subcontracting dollars. Consequently, the proposed rule change giving the small business credit to Alliant’s customers “will be a big plus for agencies,” Martin said.