Francis: As you just heard Emily Murphy discuss, the General Services Administration’s canceling the Alliant 2 small business IT contract after it spent almost four years of work on it. Here with a look at what is happening next in the governmentwide acquisition contract situation in government, Jason Miller, Executive Editor of Federal News Network, and Aaron Boyd, Senior Editor at Nextgov.
Gentlemen, welcome, thanks for coming on. Jason, you first – what’s your takeaway from what Emily talked about for her vision of the future of the GWAC landscape?
Jason Miller: What stood out to me was the recognition of the missing pieces to the broader discussion around the GWACs – the HUBZone, women-owned business, there’s no vehicle for them, specifically for agencies to reach those companies, and I think that’s a key point. Alliant 2 small business, while a lot of people put a lot of time, a lot of money, there’s a lot of frustration that GSA decided to pull the plug, that vehicle was not filling those holes, as she talked about. So in one sense, it’s good for GSA to take a step back and say hey, where are the holes in the market and let’s fill it, because there are other avenues to reach small businesses through GSA contracts and other, like NITAAC and NASA SEWP, but at the same time I know there’s a ton of frustration because GSA pulled the plug, because this was a four-year effort, and as some people said to me, have you ever calculated the cost of what it took to bid on Alliant 2 small business, I said I hadn’t, and they said, well just figure, $100,000-$250,000 per company, over a hundred companies, that’s a lot of money wasted.
Francis: Aaron, what’s your take from what Emily described about what she sees coming in the GWAC landscape?
Aaron: I think Jason was spot on with all of that. The other half of that conversation, too, is what this is going to mean for GSA, because they are a business, they are an agency that runs based on the money they get from other customer agencies using GWACs like Alliant, so without this small business GWAC, are they going to get enough business to sustain some things they’ve been working on, and I’m very interested to see what that new framework will look like. They’re going to restructure the GWAC landscape – does that mean a separate GWAC for HUBZone, a separate one for women-owned small businesses, or are they going to wrap those into Alliant, as they had planned originally.
Francis: Aaron, you’re nailing the most important point there, which is that GSA is a business. Jason referred to options that are available through NASA SEWP and NITAAC, that doesn’t do GSA’s bottom line any good as they’re trying to build a business framework. What do you think, Aaron, are the most important things your sources are telling you about what they want GSA to do next and how they want GSA to do it?
Aaron: Mostly they just want GSA to be loud, public and very descriptive about what they’re going to do and then stick to it through the end. I don’t think Alliant they didn’t stick to it; they tried to do a thing and it seems to have fallen apart, so they decided to … and try something a little different, but I think industry would’ve been more willing to come along with that and not quite as angry as they are right now if they had heard more about what was going on along the way and had more involvement in some of the decisions going on, even if they can’t make the decisions, at least feel like they’re in the loop a little more, so they’re not [unintelligible].
Francis: Jason, the ceiling lifted on STARS II a couple of days before we learned about Alliant 2 going away. STARS III’s RFP is on the street now – what is GSA doing right with STARS that it maybe missed the mark on in Alliant so that it could prevent itself from making the same mistakes?
Jason: STARS II’s been a widely successful contract. It hit the ceiling, they had to raise it, but to be honest, Francis, it was a little bit of a surprise when I learned, and when a lot of small businesses learned, that GSA ended up limiting the period of performance under the STARS II ceiling. So, for instance, if an agency made an award after July 1st, that period of performance can only go through June 30th of 2022, and the entire contract goes through 2024, and that was a big surprise. So what they’re doing right under STARS II, moving to STARS III, one thing they didn’t do right was limiting that period of performance during the ceiling, because it frustrated a lot of agencies and vendors who were expecting the ceiling to last. Now what I’m being told is that this was actually the Small Business Administration’s decision, or they strongly encouraged the limiting of the period of performance, because 8(a) firms tend to graduate out of the program, they tend to get too big, and they don’t want those 8(a) contracts to be held only by those firms that are no longer in the program, they want to have those contracts go back into that 8(a) program, because that pot of contracts tends to be limited or finite.
Francis: We have about two minutes left, so I want to ask each of you, what do you expect to see happen in the coming weeks, months, maybe year, and what kind of timeline do you expect to see it on? Aaron, you first.
Aaron: Well I think, per what Administrator Murphy said, they’re going to be holding at least one Industry Day; I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a few before we get to an RFP on Alliant 2 small business. I also wouldn’t be surprised if we don’t see an Alliant 2 small business contract; we very well may, but I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it turns into something a little different. Again, like I said, maybe a separate women-owned small business contract, maybe a separate one for HUBZones, like with VETS, so it’ll be interesting to see how all that evolves, what that ecosystem they’re trying to build is going to look like, but I don’t think it’s going to look like anything that we haven’t seen right now.
Francis: Jason, what do you see coming?
Jason: I certainly hope GSA learns some of those lessons from those challenging contracts they’ve had over the last few months, and I’ll incorporate the STARS II ceiling raise, I’ll incorporate something we haven’t talked about, which is the 2GIT, that’s turning into a big challenge, the DEOS contract is turning into a big challenge. What I hope GSA really does and learns is, the competition has to happen at the task order level; it cannot happen at the contract level. I would definitely emphasize the need to bring in, let everyone on who’s qualified, put the lowest floor possible, the lowest ceiling possible, and let the competition happen at the task order level. I know Administrator Murphy and others at GSA are tired of me saying this, but really that is the solution so we don’t have these Alliant 2 small businesses debacles.
Francis: Jason, Aaron, thanks both very much for joining me. It’s great to have you on today.
Jason: Thank you.
Aaron: Thank you.