Governmentwide Information Technology Contract Offers New Opportunities
A range of qualifications includes emerging technologies.
The newest governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC) for both Defense Department and civilian agencies across the government is designed to fill a gap that previously left some small businesses at a disadvantage, according to private sector analysts. Known as Polaris, the governmentwide small business information technology (IT) services contract offers many opportunities for small businesses but also poses some pitfalls for companies that are not careful with their bids.
Brian Friel, founder of BD Squared LLC, speaking in the AFCEA Small Business Committee Small Business Procurement Series, described how the draft Polaris request for proposals (RFP) was released on December 31, 2020, on beta.sam.gov. It offers three pools: small business, woman-owned small business (WOSB) and HUBZone, and companies can bid on one pool or multiple pools if they qualify. This closes some holes in the General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) GWAC portfolio, Friel offered. “If you’re a woman-owned small business in a HUBZone, then you can bid on all three pools,” he stated. Others can bid on the small business pool.
Polaris will carry the designation of a best-in-class vehicle, Friel pointed out. From 2016 to 2020, GSA spending on best-in-class vehicles rose at a 22-percent compound annual growth rate, he added. That growth is likely to continue as agencies realize the advantages of this approach.
“Once Polaris is created, [older] orders that expire after the creation of Polaris may well move over to that vehicle,” he offered. And, once Polaris and CIO SP4 are awarded, “we’ll really have the key IT services best-in-class vehicles that will be in place over the next decade up and running,” he stated.
For information technology contractors, more and more agencies are moving their requirements from GSA schedules and agency specific indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts into best-in-class contracts, Friel declared, and Polaris is likely to spur this activity.
He admitted that no one knows how many companies will be awarded contracts in Polaris because the GSA has omitted that information in the draft RFP. Based on the number of contractors in other information technology best-in-class contracts, he estimates that more than 100 contracts will be awarded. With potentially thousands of information technology companies looking at Polaris, winning companies will need to be in the top 150 when scores are calculated.
And the companies that have done the most work that falls in the scope of this contract vehicle in the past five years will have an advantage, Friel noted. “If you have seven million-dollar IT services projects over the past five years, that’s kind of the starting point.” Projects that have higher costs will carry more weight in the evaluation, he added.
Emerging technology will factor into the selection process. Companies with six projects that fall in the definitions of emerging technologies that GSA is most interested in can list those projects for points as long as the projects are worth at least $150,000 and are in the past five years. These categories are advanced and quantum computing; artificial intelligence; automation technology; distributed ledger technology; edge computing; and immersive technology. Having more covered emerging technologies in a bid means more points, Friel added.
Many other points will factor in the evaluation. Organizational and subcontracting compliance risk assessment will play a major role. And, a large number of bonus points will be awarded for a breadth of experience across the Polaris contract, Friel noted.
Stephanie Mitchell, co-founder of BD Squared, noted that bidding can take three forms: companies bid on their own, in a joint venture or in a prime-subcontractor teaming arrangement. Teaming is important if a company hasn’t worked in a particular area before. Bidders can submit proposals in all three areas, and offerors can use different teaming arrangements for each of the three pools that Friel described.
Mitchell warned that companies can lose up to 10 percent of their points in their evaluation if they team, which can hurt many companies. In a previous contract award she cited, most of the winners were individual companies. Also, a company can use past performance in only one bid. Two companies teaming on a bid can both be disqualified if one of them uses identical past performance information in another bid, she said.
Most importantly, companies need to know where they stand before they opt for teaming, Mitchell said. If a company has a low score relative to others, then it may need to team. On the other hand, a company with a high score can and should stand on its own. “Hold off on teaming until you know specifically what you need,” she stated. This includes knowing exactly what a teaming partner would bring to the bid.