SEWP V Has a Very Business-Like Reputation to Protect

SEWP program manager Joanne Woytek will continually remind you that she is a NASA employee first, and that the SEWP V contract has to be useful for NASA IT users before other considerations. But the fact is that SEWP has not been seen by government generally as a NASA-only vehicle for many years.

That’s driven what many people see as the most innovative aspect of SEWP. Far more than any other government procurement vehicle, SEWP has cemented a reputation for its customer service. It’s a matter of faith now that when users or vendors buy or sell through SEWP, they will receive the best hands-on service of any contract, bar none.

It’s something Woytek has pushed ever since she became program manager in 1999.

“From day one we’ve been conscious of the need to provide that kind of service,” she said. “It’s in our DNA now.”

The only thing that’s changed in that attitude with SEWP V, she said, is that the program office is actively trying to develop a better platform based on customer feedback. Given that all federal agencies now use SEWP, every agency is affected by what is done with it.

So there’s now that element “of thinking that if we change something, how is it going to affect all agency users, not just those in NASA,” she said.

An example of that was when Woytek sat down with the NASA chief information officer four years ago and asked if she would be happy if the SEWP office tracked orders for her. The answer was an enthusiastic yes, but Woytek explained that this also had a downside, since it involved more overhead to accomplish, and that the program office would hold user information, something CIOs are normally reluctant to hand over to other agencies.

Other agency CIOs had to sign off on that if they wanted that service, Woytek said, and it involved the program office working “hand-in-hand” with CIOs and agency-level decision makers to make sure they knew what they wanted of the arrangement, and how eventually to get that tracking information to them.

The program office has ramped up over the past several years to meet the expected increase in business with SEWP V, employing more than 40 people. Even so, it might be hard-pressed to maintain the kinds of standards users have come to expect, which includes close user and vendor relationships along with, for government, a very fast response time to queries.

In SEWP IV, for example, it wasn’t unusual for people to call the program office with questions and get a response back in minutes, if not immediately. Likewise, contract holders could get contract modifications approved within an hour, at the most, and technology refresh requests could also get approved in minutes.

The loyalty promoted by that business-like attitude, where the NASA program office saw itself as more of an obstruction-free conduit between vendors and users, served it in good stead when, in 2007, the GSA tried to flex its muscles in its claim to be the premier IT procurement source for government. It tried then to take over the SEWP contract from NASA. However, vendor and user loyalty to a NASA-led SEWP helped to fend off that attempt.

SEWP V has more than double the number of vendors than SEWP IV had, and, with orders starting at the level SEWP IV finished at, the program office will have to handle a much higher level of traffic. Only time will tell if Woytek got it right.