SATCOM Acquisition Moves Outside the Box
DISA's Future COMSATCOM Services Acquisition (FCSA) program may open up a wide new world of SATCOM buying options. And the COMSATCOM arena is all abuzz-with negative and positive speculation-about this new DISA/GSA plan that aims to create a common satellite marketplace. In this issue of SIGNAL Magazine, Maryann Lawlor acquires the facts about FCSA's methods and goals in her article, "High-Flying Challenges." The two procurement agencies have already taken steps to make FCSA a reality. They debuted the new solicitation Web site, FedBizOpps, in February, and have added two specs to the Federal Supply Schedule 70: Special Item Numbers for SATCOM, transponder capacity and subscription services. The FCSA also will address custom end-to-end solutions when this portion of the program is solidified. These impending changes worry some companies, especially primary SATCOM providers under contracts that end over the next three years. But, they are cautiously hopeful. Yes, it does widen the playing field, and to military leaders, more vendors means more variety, but will this "open to everyone" approach flood the market with bidders both qualified and unqualified? The most critical, and most helpful, action is for the government to define its SATCOM requirements early on so companies can plan, says XTAR LLC's government services vice president, William Schmidt:
The Defense Department ... is reluctant to communicate its future requirements to industry or to put its requirements in the Five-Year Defense Plan. The end result is ... the Defense Department and to a lesser degree the civil agencies get whatever capacity is left over.
And in many cases, that capacity is just not enough. Because it wasn't forecast, SATCOM needs go unmet-the satellites are full. Schmidt says:
The typical commercial users have done long-term if not to-end-of-life leases even before the satellites were launched. And I think it's only going to get worse.
Inmarsat Government Services President Rebecca Cowen-Hirsch has a slightly different take on the FCSA: The most important aspect is an open line of communication between COMSAT companies and government agencies. She also questions if it's possible for a mission-critical capability like communications to be handled via satellite, if SATCOM vendors with little to no experience are allowed in the bidding competition. It's not as simple as purchasing office supplies when lives and missions are on the line. Cowen-Hirsch wonders whether or not operators' requirements can be fulfilled in an agile fashion with a meaningful distinction between the Schedule 70 providers? It's not clear to her yet. The mostly static federal bureaucracy can use an entrepreneurial FCSA shot to the arm-but will this new acquisition process just add more layers of red tape to a system trying to streamline? Will it work smoothly, or does the FCSA have too many kinks? How about other potential methods? Please share your ideas.