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Bill Zielinski Talks Performance, Risk,Markets and Innovation

Bill Zielinski is the deputy assistant commissioner for IT in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service. Prior to joining GSA, he served as CIO at the Social Security Administration and served in the office of the Federal CIO. “My goal is to really help agencies move out on their technology and initiatives in a fast and efficient manner,” he says.

Q: Alliant 2 is an extension of its predecessor, Alliant 1. What’s new?

A: The Alliant family of vehicles are the next generation of governmentwide acquisition contracts for IT services. Building on the successes of its predecessor, Alliant 2 really helps agencies by putting in place a series of IT service providers that have demonstrated experience and track records in bringing IT service capabilities to agencies – just about any type of technical capability that might support their missions. It sets in place a floor for pre-competed terms and conditions for Alliant2 providers and a ceiling for prices.

Q: IT evolves quickly. How will Alliant 2 remain viable?

A: The team made sure that for Alliant 2 they will have the ability to on board providers and technical capabilities as necessary to reflect changes in the marketplace. And because it is a pre-computed vehicle, agencies are able to move to a contract award and start executing on their technical capabilities much faster than if they’re trying to do this on the open market and starting from scratch.

Q: How does Alliant 2 fit with the President’s Management Agenda and IT Modernization?

A: There’s about $100 billion spent each year on technology in the government. About $58 billion of that goes through contracts. And part of what this President’s Management agenda attempts to do is: No. 1, it puts that focus on technology. No. 2, it really asks agencies to keep their eye on the ball of modernization –future technology and capabilities that will ensure that we’re modernizing for the future. No. 3, it asks agencies to take more of a governmentwide approach, rather than reinventing the wheel at each agency.

Q: Meaning?

A: For those places in which there are already technical solutions built, we should leverage those. In the particular case of the Alliant 2 vehicle, it allows agencies to execute on their technical requirements much more quickly.

Q: Alliant 2 is a Best-in-Class vehicle, right?

A: Yes, Alliant 2 is defined as a best in class vehicle. We, as the government, have the ability to understand what we’re buying, from whom we’re buying, how much we’re spending on those things, and to really use the data that comes from the vehicle to put more leverage into the marketplace to improve outcomes and to improve prices. So there are many ways in which the Alliant 2 vehicle really does meet the President’s Management Agenda of utilizing something that’s already in place, leveraging best practices that are there, utilizing providers on this contract that have a proven track record of delivery and allowing procurement of new and emerging technology.

Q: Contracting is more than a transactional vehicle for facilitating acquisitions. It’s also a policy tool, right?

A: What I’m seeing in federal IT for the better part of the last 15 years is the realization that letting agencies buy whatever technology they want and then try to figure out how to make it IT compliant or compliant from a security standpoint is probably not the most successful strategy. There is this growing recognition that we, collectively as a community, can buy down the risk that’s associated with the deployment of technology, whether that’s from a national security standpoint or from a compliance with policy standpoint.

Q: How do you get there?

A: As we talk about acquisition strategy and putting governmentwide acquisition contracts in place, we’re implanting those requirements into the vehicle itself. When we compete these vehicles, they have baked-in requirements, whether it’s compliance with cyber security requirement, federal acquisition regulations or other policies that are out there.

Q: You’re using the contract to get ahead of known challenges?

A: When we pre-compete the vehicle, that means that we are getting agreements from providers of those services. When agencies use Alliant 2, they have a level of surety that all the terms and conditions are going to be fully complied with, putting them in the best posture.

Q: How does a vehicle like Alliant 2 have a broader impact?

A: I’ll bring up small business interests. In government, we have aggressive small business utilization goals. The Alliant 2 contract has an ambitious goal of 50 percent of all subcontract dollars performed by small businesses over the life of the contract.

Q: The Technology Modernization Fund was created as a way for agencies to finance critical IT needs. What bearing does Alliant 2 have on TMF?

A: Over 15 years you’ve seen a sharper focus on modernization. I think things like the Modernizing Government Technology Act and the associated Technology Modernization Fund are tools agencies have to do that. Alliant 2 provides an avenue for agencies to modernize their IT infrastructure and provide highly qualified contractors to agencies’ needs, so agencies can incorporate Alliant 2 within their acquisition planning to meet their TMF goals.

Q: What are the challenges for a long-term contracting vehicle like Alliant 2?

A: Alliant was highly successful, wellliked and utilized by agencies. But we took a lot of time in working both with agencies and conducting market research and receiving industry input for the development of Alliant 2. A hallmark of the program is its caring for the customer and the outcomes that they want. We also have very direct relationships with industry partners. We’re finding out from them what works and doesn’t work.

Q: What is the impact of those industry relationships?

A: We heard from them that Alliant 2 should have the ability to bring to bear leading edge technology. That feedback was highly influential. Those insights from industry allowed the team to better understand agency requirements and to reflect those in the final product.

Q: Alliant 2 is barely out of the gate. How’s it going so far?

A: Alliant 2 is off to a very brisk start.

Q: Other than volume, what are the benchmarks for Alliant 2’s success?

A: We have to take a look at the performance and the ability of providers on the vehicle to execute successfully on the customer requirements. We do customer surveys and get customer feedback that tells us how well the vehicle is performing for customers. We look at things like ease of use. We look at the likelihood of customers recommending Alliant 2 to others . We take a look at the value of what’s paid for versus what’s being delivered.

Q: Anything else?

A: I’d love to to do some benchmarking against the broader IT market and be able to assess whether the services and products that are being delivered through Alliant 2 are in alignment with the needs of the federal IT community. To me, that would be the reflection that we’re actually getting into their hands the services, the products, the capabilities that agencies actually need to carry out their mission.