Novel contracting group can save big-time defense dollars on procurement

Little-known organization applies the principles of the commune to save defense dollars in procurement

Defense IT chiefs are finding savings for precious acquisition dollars by making purchases through communal government contracting vehicles.

Instead of reinventing the wheel with every contracting need, the National Institute of Health Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWAC) program is allowing federal agencies to hop on a bandwagon that they say increases efficiencies and drastically reduces turnaround time. Although the program does not have a direct link with the Defense Department, it can be used by all DOD components.

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“Anything from simple products through major services for IT can be done through our governmentwide contracts,” Robert Coen, deputy program director at the NITAAC GWAC program, told Defense Systems.

The GWAC program is far from new, and has been in place about 20 years. Coen admits, however, that there is limited awareness of its utility in the contracting community. That’s changing, he says, due to intense budget pressures zeroing in on waste and consolidating duplicative government contracts.

That’s what attracted Lt. Col. Samuel Washington, CIO and deputy of the Medical Support Division Office of the Air Force Command Surgeon General in Pearl Harbor. “We are definitely always looking to cut costs, especially in these days and times,” Washington said. “We’ve been told to find cost-cutting measures with everything that we’re doing.”

Washington, who learned of the NITAAC contract vehicle through word of mouth and Internet searches, used the vehicle for the first time this year and said the process shaved months off acquisition, which is vital in the rapidly evolving IT community. “To stay on top of our competition in the world from a military standpoint, we have to invest in the best IT equipment and the best people that we can,” he added.

While almost every federal agency uses the NITAAC GWAC contracts, defense acquisitions are on the rise. In fact, DOD is the second largest user of these contracts, and has used the contracts to buy about $7 million in products and about $2.2 billion in IT services, according to NITAAC. Awareness is growing among defense officials, according to the agency, with a 126 percent increase in registered DOD customers in the NITAAC ordering system between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011.

The two main NITAAC contracts -- the Chief Information Officer Solutions and Partners and the electronic commodity contract – have established vendors who have gone through source selections and competed for inclusion on the contracts. “Once they get on the contracts and we set up the vehicles, any federal agency can come in and compete their orders amongst those venders and issue task orders,” for all IT services and products, such as major infrastructure programs, cloud services, equipment and software development, Coen said.

“Because these are governmentwide contracts, you can have some economy of scale,” Coen said. Customers have been known to award large IT product buy in less than three days, compared to at least six months to a year in a traditional acquisition cycle. “One of the reasons that people use GWACs, especially ours, is because of the speed. It’s a very efficient process to compete and award something very quickly,” he said. Contractors are able to update their catalogs of offerings through the contract. “We’re adding products within hours based upon customers’ needs,” Coen said.

About the Author

Kimberly Johnson is a contributing writer for Defense Systems.

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