Federal OASIS Program Could Quench IT Providers' Thirst
Any time the U.S. government signals it is embarking on a program to invest tens of billions of dollars, potential vendors take notice -- especially during a time of spending restraint.
The federal government, through the General Services Administration, has launched a new program for the procurement of a wide range of professional support services. GSA has branded it the "One Acquisition Solution for Integrated Services," or OASIS. The idea is for government agencies to use a common contracting vehicle for support services, versus individual agency-by-agency procurement programs, to make such contracting more efficient.
The OASIS initiative represents GSA's solution to reducing contract proliferation and duplication across government.
"This is a problem for both government and for contractors, and when we look at what the government spends annually on professional services, the numbers are significant. GSA uses the buying power of the federal government to bring down costs and reduce duplication," says GSA Public Affairs Officer Cara Battaglini in a blog post.
At first glance, the OASIS program does not involve specific IT systems, since the contract vehicle is geared to the procurement of services such as accounting, project management, business processes and environmental management. However, beneath the surface of services covered by OASIS, there appear to be ample federal contracting opportunities for IT providers.
"While information technology is allowable as an ancillary part of a complex, integrated professional services solution on OASIS, information technology is not the primary focus of the vehicle," Jim Ghiloni, OASIS program executive officer at GSA, told the E-Commerce Times. For example, GSA already offers a variety of contracts focused on IT solutions, such as its cloud and wireless blanket purchase agreements and its standard IT procurement vehicle, GSA Schedule-70.
"Those contracts are a better fit" for direct IT procurement, Ghiloni said.
"OASIS is not meant to be a contract for agencies to purchase IT services or equipment. In fact, one section of the OASIS solicitations precludes an ordering agency from issuing a task order where the predominant scope of work is for an ancillary service -- which includes IT," Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council, told the E-Commerce Times.
"However, it is clearly understood that OASIS contractors will be able to use ancillary services in the performance of any of the core functions of OASIS," he said.
IT Opportunities in the Fine Print
The key for IT vendors is how much ancillary IT business will be involved with OASIS projects.
"Information technology is so enmeshed with all the professional services that are OASIS core disciplines, there is absolutely going to be an IT component to many task orders," Jennifer Aubel, managing consultant at Aronson, told the E-Commerce Times.
A close examination of the specific terms of the OASIS program indicates that IT will likely be a major element of the initiative.
"OASIS takes GSA schedules to the next level by combining professional services and IT services into one package, creating a single source for both commercial and noncommercial needs -- and eliminating the unneeded duplication of contracts," Battaglini wrote.
IT components are eligible for the program provided they are necessary to complete a total integrated solution under a professional service-based requirement within the scope of OASIS, according to GSA.
An $80 Billion Pie Awaits Slicing
The business impact of the OASIS program is huge.
A "reasonable estimate" of the potential value of contracts resulting from OASIS could be US$80 billion over the 10-year life of the program, Ghiloni said.
On a purely arbitrary basis, if just 20 percent of the spending were for related information technology resources, the IT component would be worth $16 billion. In fact, the IT component is significant enough that GSA is using the program to promote other government IT goals, such as promoting the use of open source solutions and open technology where practicable.
In late July, GSA issued two requests for proposal under the OASIS banner. Providers of support services have until Sept. 17 to submit responses to the RFPs in order to qualify as GSA-approved vendors. One RFP is geared toward all vendors, regardless of size, and the second is geared toward small businesses.
Still a Bit Clunky
The rollout of the OASIS program has been a little bumpy, even though representatives of the support service and IT sectors generally give GSA high marks for developing a productive contracting vehicle.
"GSA has done an exceptional job of interacting with industry and with potential customers to develop an OASIS that will be a best in class, multi-award contract for integrated services. This interaction with industry is greatly appreciated and a model to be considered for future procurements," Ann Marie Bryant, chief operating officer for Beacon Associates, told the E-Commerce Times. Bryant leads the OASIS working group at the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council.
"GSA's industry outreach over the past two years has been the most extensive I have seen for a procurement like this," Aubel said.
Yet the ink was hardly dry on the RFPs before one small business filed a protest over certain terms of the vehicle, causing GSA to issue a correction.
Major trade groups such as TechAmerica, the Professional Services Council, and the Coalition for Government Procurement jointly filed a letter to GSA contending that the OASIS contractor selection process is skewed. [*Correction - Sept. 4, 2013]
GSA has created several North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) business specialty pools for potential OASIS contractors with expertise in those specialties, and it requires certain standards of eligibility for inclusion in a pool. One criterion is past performance on government contracts.
The pool structure misapplies the descriptive nature of NAICS codes and turns it into a qualification standard that is inappropriate for many vendors, the trade groups claim.
"OASIS is configured in a different way than most large multiple-award vehicles. This has to do with a proposed rule from the Small Business Administration that will change the way NAICS codes and size standards are applied to multiple-award procurements. No agency has had to address this proposed rule before, so it isn't surprising if the first solution is a little clunky," said Aubel.
"This requirement does not reflect a company's ability to perform or build a competitive team on a task order. The significant focus in the pool may force vendors to specialize and may reduce the number of bidders with truly integrated capabilities," Bryant noted.
"The ACT-IAC task force believes that reducing the pool restrictions will increase and maintain competition on OASIS for the life of the contract," she said.
"The OASIS procurement has many advantages for GSA and for ordering agencies for acquiring professional services, and we support that effort, but even the current solicitation is a work in process," said Chvotkin.
"For example, through Aug. 27, GSA has already issued two amendments to further refine and improve the solicitations," he pointed out. "In our view, the goal is not whether GSA can run a good procurement, but whether the functions and capabilities provided for under the final OASIS contracts offered by those firms that win spots on the contracts can meet the needs of the ordering agencies. It will take some time after the contract awards are announced to answer that question."
*ECT News Network editor's note - Sept. 4, 2013: Our original published version of this story incorrectly stated that ACT-IAC was among the trade groups that filed a letter to GSA contending that the OASIS contractor selection process is skewed. ACT-IAC did not sign the letter and is not an advocate for industry. ACT-IAC is a public-private partnership, not a trade group, spokesperson Marco Carranza told the E-Commerce Times.