NETCENTS-2 is key to the Air Force’s IT mission

The Air Force’s Network Centric Solutions-2 (NETCENTS-2) is a follow to the successful NETCENTS-1, on which ordering stopped at the end of fiscal 2013. But that description does it little justice. With a total contract ceiling of more than $24 billion, the seven-year contract is more than twice the size of its older sibling, and carries more than 12 times the number of vendors.

It’s key to the success of the Air Force’s IT mission, said program manager Robert Smothers, and has been built specifically to provide IT services and products that meet Air Force requirements and technical standards. Other government contracts are not tailored to Air Force mission needs, he said, and do not require products to be compliant with Air Force standards.

Additionally, no fee is charged for use of the contract.

“Economically, the Air Force benefits by avoiding the cost spent on fees,” Smothers said.

All other government-wide acquisition contracts (GWACs), such as NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP) and the GSA’s Alliant, do charge a fee. As Air Force IT users could theoretically go to these other GWACs for their needs, the Air Force’s no-fee approach for NETCENTS-2 could also provide a competitive edge for the program.

NETCENTS-2 benefits from lessons learned with the earlier contract. NETCENTS-1 had a complicated relationship between the contract’s primes and their subcontractors, according to market researcher Deltek, and NETCENTS-2 enables a more direct working relationship for the Air Force with its vendors and providers.

It now separates products from services and applications from infrastructure through various requirement-specific contract vehicles, Deltek said, which creates a bidders’ pool of specialized services versus product providers. That arrangement should also help to reduce overhead costs.

NETCENTS-2 also reworks the opportunities for small businesses to get Air Force work. NETCENTS-1 had what was considered then to be an aggressive strategy of providing a minimum of 20 percent of the contract dollars to small businesses, with another 20 percent of the money going to large contracts targeted for small-business subcontractors.

But most of the small business potential on NETCENTS-1 was as subcontractors, which was seen as a real impediment to actually getting business. NETCENTS-2, by contrast, has separate vehicles just for small businesses, which should create far more opportunities.

Boosting small business acquisition that way is “directly in line with the Air Force’s strategic initiative of supporting small business goals,” Deltek analysts said.

Deltek gives four key reason why NETCENTS-2 now plays such a central role in the Air Force’s strategic plans:

  • Standardization of products and services across the agency
  • Simplified, standardized and expedited acquisition process
  • Control the costs through leveraging Air Force’s extensive buying power
  • Visibility of acquisition data, in order to identify trends, cost variances and compliance through use of the AFWay procurement portal

AFWay was launched in 2002 as an automated Web-based tool for acquiring commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) products in order to provide an easier way for users to manage their IT spend. It’s since become a focus for the Air Force’s desire to get a better handle on such things as small business sales, and how to make better strategic IT procurements.

The evolution of the NETCENTS program since the days of the Unified Local Area Networking (ULANA II) contract, which ended in February 2003, mirrors the development of the Defense Department’s overall focus on “net centric” warfighting, in which the harmonization of agency networks and data takes precedent.

It also supports the long-term Air Force objective to cut IT costs by using commodity hardware and software to assemble a common network of servers, data centers and online applications to replace the highly silod and unique networking infrastructures that have traditionally driven Air Force operations.

Net centric warfare requires that all elements of the service be able to seamlessly communicate and share data with each other, which requires each them use the same applications and protocols, and run across that single, common network.

As well as benefiting from not having costs spent associated with charging fees, NETCENTS-2 managers expect that the management of its own contract and the mandatory use policy will give the Air Force a much better insight into how it spends on IT, and will provide the data needed to develop strategic acquisition polices to better manage that IT spend, such as the “Bending the Cost Curve” initiative.

Deborah Lee, secretary of the Air Force, announced that initiative in January 2015 as a way to help the Air Force partner more closely with industry, encourage innovation, and drive down the overall cost of systems. Better dialog with industry is needed, she said, “so we can better understand how the processes, procedures, and some of the choices we make can inadvertently contribute to rising costs, the stifling of innovation and slow processes.”

Bending the Cost Curve will require that the Air Force be “strategically agile,” she said.

NETCENTS-1, the successor to ULANA II, was expanded from its initial design as a straight replacement for the LAN contract to become more of an enterprise-wide solutions contract aimed at standardization and interoperability of Air Force networks. NETCENTS-2 carries that forward even further by incorporating the lessons learned on cost reductions and more efficient acquisitions.

“Early on (in NETCENTS-2) the acquisitions strategy better targeted and segmented the customer base for ease of use, speed and leveraging buying power,” Smothers said. “The rich history of NETCENTS-1 and market information guided the acquisitions strategy every step of the way.”

As technology in the broader world improved and expanded, so did those advances feed into the added requirements for NETCENTS-2, such as:

  • Biometrics/Identity Management—products and services to support the creation and implementation of a standard identity management solution for the Air Force
  • Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) based requirements—SOA based products, services, and solutions for the infrastructure and application areas
  • Enterprise Integration and Service Management (EISM) —enterprise level advisory services for creating and implementing services and service management across the AF
  • Migration to Everything over IP (EoIP) —Products and services for Voice over IP (VoIP) as well as video and signal data over IP
  • Migration to enterprise solutions—Enterprise Service Units, Enterprise Service Desk, Enterprise Level Security, USAF IT-Lifecycle Centers
  • Deployable IP networks

One thing NETCENTS-2 will no longer do is provide engineering services to go with the products and other solutions and services it offers. That was the original plan, but the Air Force now plans to acquire these services through the Professional Acquisition Support Services II (PASS II) and Engineering and Technology Acquisition Support Services II (ETASS II) vehicles, as well as GSA’s One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services (OASIS).

“The IT Professional Support and Engineering contract was not awarded because market research shows that the Air Force requirements for tactical level advisory and assistance services can be met by (these) other contracts that are already in place and doing the job today,” Smothers said.