NETCENTS-2 Mandatory Use Aims at Costs, Technical Competence

While NETCENTS-2 is considered a key element in the Air Force’s net-centric, war-fighting future, service chiefs have cemented that position into formal policy by making the contract mandatory for use by all Air Force units looking to buy IT products and solutions that meet the net-centric requirement.

The May 2011 memo from the Air Force secretary’s office that first stipulated this was reinforced by another in September 2014 that reiterated the mandatory-use policy, linking the use of NETCENTS-2 to the push by the Air Force to standardize its current networks, and to make sure all future developments use the same standards and can seamlessly interoperate with each other.

“NETCENTS-2 supports the IT lifecycle to include legacy operational and sustainment activities, re-engineering of legacy capabilities into target architectures and environments, and future service-oriented capabilities,” the memo said. “Furthermore, NETCENTS-2 facilitates competition by enabling different solution providers to participate over the course of the program lifecycle.”

As well as ensuring that eventual network standardization through the Air Force, mandatory use is also seen as providing stability for vendors who have been awarded contracts in NETCENTS-2. In other contracts you might compete and come out on top, but that still doesn’t guarantee a sale if users can still go to other sources outside of the contract if they feel they can get a better deal there.

Also, said Robert Smothers, NETCENTS-2 program manager, Air Force management of its own contract and the mandatory use policy “provides better insight into Air Force spend patterns, and provides the data needed to develop strategic acquisition policies to manage that spend.”

It also reduces procurement overhead and delivery times since NETCENTS-2 users can simply issue task orders to the pre-qualified vendors, instead of having to go through the laborious process of writing individual contracts for products and services.

Although it’s not a stated goal, NETCENTS-2 is also expected to significantly cut the Air Force’s overall IT costs through time saved by this faster and more streamlined procurement process, through less support needed to maintain fewer configurations of IT systems, and through the sheer increase in competition for orders.

“Potential users seem quite happy to have a choice of 100 vendors,” Smothers said. “You may recall that the NETCENTS-1 contract had only 8 vendors.”

The use of lowest price, technically acceptable (LPTA) criteria for selecting awards may also be used to drive down costs, but it’s drawn flak from some vendors and users, who worry that the quality of some products offered may suffer in the quest for lowest price.

But NETCENTS-2 task orders do not require the use of LPTA, according to Smothers. Many different types of task orders are available for use, from firm fixed price to those based on labor hours. Each task order on NETCENTS-2 is competed among those vendors in the available pool, e.g. each of the 25 Products vendors competes in that area of the contract.

“Generally speaking,” he said, “if the requirements are well-defined and other factors such as innovation are not as important, the government can achieve cost savings (through LPTA). But the NETCENTS-2 acquisition strategy used by each acquirer determines whether or not to use LPTA.”