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Military Information Technology - October 2010 - Issue 14.9

Issue 14, Volume 9
October 2010

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VETS Success

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MIT 2010 Volume: 14 Issue: 5 (June)

VETS Success

 

Now in its third year, the Veterans Technology Services (VETS) Governmentwide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) is being hailed as a success in its efforts to increase the government IT contract work available to small service-disabled veteran-owned (SDVO) technology firms.

“We have a lot of participation from industry partners that were awarded contracts,” commented Stephen Triplett, director of the Small Business GWAC Center in Kansas City, Mo.

The VETS GWAC, which runs from February 2007 to February 2012, was awarded to SDVO small business technology firms. A General Services Administration (GSA) program, the VETS GWAC is the result of Executive Order 13360.

“Small businesses play a critical role in the U.S. economy and are key drivers of innovation and job creation,” said Ed O’Hare, assistant commissioner, GSA Federal Acquisition Service, Office of Integrated Technology Services (FAS, ITS). “SDVO firms have also made a tremendous contribution to the American economy and military strength through their service to our country.”

O’Hare regards the VETS contract as a win-win situation for everybody. “It gives service-disabled veteran-owned and controlled businesses access to a growing federal IT marketplace,” he said. “It helps agencies achieve their small business goals when purchasing mission-critical information technology solutions. And because the VETS contract is already in place, the procurement process is a lot easier and quicker, benefiting both agencies and service-disabled veteran businesses.”

Michael O’Neill, director, National GWAC Program Office, GSA FAS, ITS, emphasized the benefits of the contract. “VETS is pre-competed and easy to use, with short procurement lead times, limited ability to protest, and continued training and support from the VETS GWAC acquisition team,” he said.

The multiple-award contract, valued at $10 billion over 10 years, offers qualified service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses (SDVOSBs) opportunities to provide IT services and IT service-based solutions to federal agencies. In turn, it also strengthens federal contracting opportunities for SDVOSBs. The contract provides a five-year initial term and a five-year option period.

The fact that this is the first GWAC set aside for award to SDVOSBs makes it unique.

While committed dollars are far from topping out, between fiscal years 2007 and 2010, the contract has resulted in $493.1 million in obligated sales under the VETS GWAC. In FY10, $128.6 million in sales had been realized as of March 31, 2010. This followed $214.9 million in FY09. In fact, for FY07-08, the contract realized 319.9 percent growth in sales, and 77.9 percent growth for FY08-09.

CONTINUED PROMOTION

GSA’s Small Business GWAC Center manages the VETS contract vehicle to help federal agencies meet their statutory goal of 3 percent procurement for SDVOSBs.

“We have a full spectrum of SDVOSB IT service companies available,” reported Jihyun Huyck, business development specialist, GSA Small Business GWAC Center. “Agencies can also pick from a variety of contract types.”

By using the VETS GWAC, agencies can shorten their procurement time since GSA already has these contracts in place. Typically, open-market procurement lead time can be 12 to 24 months, so in contrast, this can be a real time saver. The Small Business GWAC Center has an ordering guide for users available on its Website (www.gsa.gov/vetsgwac). In fact, before placing an order, customers can send a statement of work to the center for a no-cost scope compatibility review. This is quality assurance measure that helps determine if a requirement is a good fit for the VETS GWAC.

“Our team reviews and sends a response within one or two days,” Huyck said. If, during the acquisition planning phase of the procurement, customers are unsure about abilities of small business firms, they can ask for capabilities statements from the VETS companies, and assistance is available from the center during any part of the process.

The center has good relationships with customers, enjoying a remarkable rating of 86 percent of customers willing to recommend the GWACs, and 87 percent of customers willing to reuse the GWACs. Because of this, if a new customer’s requirements are similar to an existing task order’s scope, the center is often able to connect the new customer with an existing one as a reference, or to share best practices, if that’s an interest. “They might have a comfort level in talking to that other contracting officer,” said Janna Babcock, procuring contracting officer, VETS GWAC, GSA Small Business GWAC Center.

An important objective is that the government has to feel comfortable using this contract and know that service delivery/ mission fulfillment is assured. It also gives the SDVOSBs an opportunity to compete in an arena in which they have traditionally been left out. “In short, our contracts are easy to use,” said Triplett. “There’s a wide range of opportunities that are covered.”

Also important, the VETS GWAC is not a brand-new contract, but already has a track record.

“This takes the guess work out of whether or not our industry partners can do the work,” he said. “We can give evidence of their success. When we did the initial source selection, we picked the most highly qualified SDVOs and put them together in one vehicle as a value proposition to agencies. This says to the agencies, here are qualified SDVOs in one ready-toaccess place.”

RAISED PROFILES

A critical element of the VETS GWAC is how it has raised the profile of highly qualified SDVOSB IT companies. For example, the VETS GWAC has been an incredible growth engine for Centuria Corp., a SDVOSB that has had $169 million in awards against the VETS vehicle.

“Most important, it enabled us to be a prime on large and major contracts, which has given the company a level of experience that very few government service providers achieve before graduating from the small business program,” commented Centuria chief executive officer, Kevin Burke. “With our current past performance, we are a credible bidder on large full and open contracts outside of the small business program.”

As a result of the VET GWAC contract, Centuria was awarded task orders from the National Weather Service (NWS) Next Generation Radar (NEXRAD) and the U.S. Forest Service I-Web.

Under the NWS NEXRAD order, Centuria provides infrastructure engineering design, development, implementation, production, installation and integration support to the Radar Operations Center in support of nearly 200 Doppler weather radars that provide critical tornado and severe weather warning observations across the continental U.S., Puerto Rico, Guam and Korea.

“We are involved in every phase of the software life cycle across business and technical applications,” reported Burke. “We also provide facility support, program management and quality assurance.”

This contract involves customer touch points within the NWS, Department of Transportation and Air Force.

Under the Forest Service I-Web contract, Centuria provides full life cycle support for over 40 highly integrated Forest Service applications that provide a myriad of mission-critical services, including asset management, financial tracking, and permitting and maintenance tracking. Centuria designs, develops, tests, implements and documents these applications.

While Burke has not found VETS GWAC to be a contract of choice for some agencies, he contends that it should be a vehicle of choice for Veterans Affairs (VA) and the entire DoD.

“Both have a large amount of set aside contracts for SDVOs, and the VETS GWAC provides a quicker way to get that work started,” Burke said. “Instead of doing full and open competitions with high small business goals, DoD could use VETS and give SDVOs the opportunity to prime larger contracts and gain the critical experience necessary to successfully graduate from the small business program.”

VIABLE OPTION

To be approved for VETS GWAC, the contract required Centuria to build a strong bench of subcontractors to satisfy the depth of the RFP requirements.

“In that process, we were forced to develop relationships with both large businesses and other SDVOSBs,” he said. “It was not any more difficult than any other GWAC competition.’

In fact, he found the process to be fairly typical. “It was a competitive award with approximately the top 10 percent of bidders receiving awards,” Burke added.

The winning companies had to have deep past performances in a wide spectrum of IT work (or have teaming partners with such) as well as a full life cycle business development (BD) process in place to successfully compete. “Centuria had a mature BD process and complete team that was able to see the bid through the entire process,” Burke said.

In fact, when Centuria bid on VETS, the company had almost 30 SDVOSB subcontractors.

“Immediately after the win, we held a large kickoff in which we explained the VETS GWAC, with hand-outs and a presentation, and how our subcontractors could help us win new business with the vehicle,” Burke remarked.

Unfortunately, Burke revealed, the only SDVOSBs on Centuria’s bid team to do any of the heavy lifting required to build business under VETS to date have been subcontractors who also bid the VETS GWAC as a prime and won their own award.

“We have not teamed with our existing SDVOSB partners on VETS or other SDVOSB partners because we have not pursued any opportunities where another SDVO would be an asset/requirement to winning the bid, or had any of our partners bring a deal to us for joint pursuit,” he said. “It’s not your prime’s job to identify work and give it away to subcontractors because they are nice folks and are liked. It’s a subcontractor’s job to go out and identify work they can’t handle without support and bring it back into the team for joint pursuit.”

In Burke’s opinion, the biggest challenge with the GWAC is that the program administration is decentralized. “There is not a view into the pipeline of contracts coming up. You really cannot plan ahead of the RFP,” he said.

Kevin Terrell of KT Consulting revealed that his company won a significant contract in the early days of the VETS GWAC. “Overall, we’ve benefited quite nicely from that contract,” he said. “A key result of that contract has been the award of several other contracts, which made our business development highly efficient.”

Terrell sees the VETS GWAC as a viable contracting option to offer its customers. “Its only drawback is the VETS GWAC’s inability to obtain sole source contract awards,” he remarked. “Often a customer with whom we are working finds it difficult to support a competitive bid when they don’t have to use other contracting options.”

Like other SDVOSB executives, Terrell also has found that some government agencies are better at using the VETS GWAC than others. “There are still some prospects that are entirely unaware of the VETS GWAC,” he stated.

Some critics claim the SDVOSB program has not come close to meeting its goal of 3 percent of procurement for SDVOSBs. But Terrell emphasizes that the emphasis must be on delivering value. “The 3 percent goal should only be a bonus for a customer that sees value in your consulting solution,” he said.

Terrell particularly sees the VETS GWAC as an excellent program for motivating SDVOSBs.

“All of the VETS GWAC prime contractors have upped our level of competition as a result of participating in this program, and we have pushed each other,” he said. “We are always looking to improve our capabilities and for additional companies that are going to help us to build our team and not hold us back.”

Mark Harrington, director of business development for Information Innovators Inc. (Triple-i), also described VETS GWAC as giving his company the ability to market its skill sets to niche customers and draw business to the contract.

“The GSA GWAC does a terrific job of educating customers on how to use the vehicle,” he said. “It’s up to the awarding companies to market the vehicle to their customers.”

Thanks to VETS GWAC, Triple-i has done work with the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), Department of Justice and Air Force. “At DCMA, we are doing headquarters LAN support,” Harrington said. “We support their IT enterprise, which supports over 12,000 customers.”

Other VETS GWAC task orders call for program management support services, where Triple-i supports the CIO and everything in the enterprise and infrastructure from a strategic nature, and e-business support, where Triple-i acts as the liaison between the developers and function users.

Triple-i is providing PMO support to Justice. On the USAF Enterprise Service Desk, a $42 million contract, it supports over 700,000 Air Force customers.

“This has been a very good vehicle for us,” Harrington revealed. “This shows how SDVOSBs can handle mission-critical programs. It is one of the largest contracts the Air Force has awarded on the VETS GWAC.”

Triple-i originally bid the contract with its core team of trusted partners. “As the government released modifications, we saw that in the spirit of the contract, it was best to partner with other SDVOSBs,” he explained.

But as the contract gained momentum, Triple-i continues to reach out to SDVOSBs. “Although large systems integrators offer great competencies and experience, SDVOSBs have proven the work can be accomplished,” Harrington said. Overall, Harrington emphasized that the VETS GWAC has been a tremendous contract for Triple-i. “If the VETS GWAC was not around, we could use other vehicles,” he said. “But GWAC gives us the ability to promote opportunities specifically for SDVOSBs.”

HEAD START

Catapult Technology, which is the largest revenue generator on the VETS GWAC, has three active task orders under the contract. These are with DoD, Dewitt Hospital at Fort Belvoir, Va., and VA. In total, these represent approximately $170 million in revenue, with the Dewitt Hospital accounting for roughly $3 million of the total.

The DoD contract supports the Defense Continuity Integrated Network (DCIN). Under this task, Catapult is providing disaster recovery, continuity of operations and back-up solutions for the Pentagon. The contract involves people at the Pentagon Complex and failover sites. For Dewitt Hospital, Catapult provides help desk services for the IT support of that facility. For Veterans Affairs, Catapult is installing wireless networks at 166 facilities across the country, including hospitals, regional offices and satellite offices.

Unlike most SDVOSBs, Catapult had already been in business for 10 years when the VETS GWAC was awarded. “We were already a $20 million company,” said Barry Kane, Catapult president.

Although Catapult has done exceptionally well with the VETS GWAC, Kane has found that only the VA regards the program as a contract of choice for government agencies. “The VA has done an amazing job at using SDVOSBs,” he said.

But Kane is troubled by the fact he finds it a struggle to get other agencies to use the contract, particularly those related to the military, since principals of VETS contract holders sacrificed part of their health in the service of those organizations. “I would think that exceeding the SDVOSB goal would be a high priority in those agencies,” he said.

However, some agencies have internal policies that require them to use their own contract vehicles, noted Jean Oyler, business operations manager at the Small Business GWAC Center.

“We certainly want to make them aware of VETS GWAC and its capabilities,” she added. “But within the VETS GWAC itself, it has a wide range of customer agencies—both defense and civilian.”

A particular benefit of the program, Kane explained, is due to the fact that Catapult uses a number of companies as subcontractors that do not have a VETS prime contract. When it comes time to bid again, these companies then have experience with the GWAC. “They will be in a better position to win as a prime,” he said.

Catapult also teams with dozens of contractors, large and small, SDVOSB and not. “We have companies that can satisfy our customer’s needs,” he said. “The bottom line is we subcontract to the right organization, large or small, that will help us meet the customer’s requirements.” Most important, Kane remarked, is for companies to have a sound business plan and to take advantage of multiple GWACS.

“They need to understand that the receipt of a GWAC contract award is really the start of the hard work,” he said. “Winning a GWAC does not guarantee any revenue. It takes marketing and teaming to bring work to the contract vehicle. A lot of SDVOSBs fail because they do not understand how to do business.”

To help, Kane works with the Montgomery County (Md.) Chamber of Commerce in the development and delivery of the Veterans Institute for Procurement. “In this program we provide veteranowned companies with 18 hours of instruction on areas including business structure, insurance, bid rates, subcontracting, marketing, proposals and program monitoring and control.”

It is not clear yet what direction the VETS GWAC will take in the future in terms of a next on-ramp for VETS. The current term ends in 2012, with a fiveyear extension being granted to original awardees who meet the minimum revenues requirements of the vehicle.

“At this point, we have not taken anything off the table,” commented Triplett. “We have built in this contract an option to have an on ramp at the option period. That is a possibility. Another possibility is we could consider establishing VETS 2.0.”

“As we move further down the road, we will start communicating with our industry partners, customer agencies and other stakeholders what our intention are,” he said. ♦

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