Stan Soloway

Plenty of unanswered questions about $10B OASIS contract

Will it be an oasis for professional services or a mirage?

One of the most closely watched procurements of the year is the General Services Administration’s proposed OASIS vehicle, a multiple award contract designed to provide integration services for complex solutions. GSA issued the draft request for proposals in March and is expected to issue the final request for proposals later this summer.

To its great credit, in developing the RFP, the agency has engaged in what can only be described as one of the most open and continual efforts to engage with the private sector that we have seen.

There seems to be no forum at which GSA leaders, particularly OASIS Program Manager Jim Ghiloni, will not appear to answer questions, absorb feedback and share perspectives. While the ultimate impact of that outreach will not be known until the process is complete, no one can claim that GSA has failed to communicate.

It’s been “Mythbusters” (the Office of Management and Budget memo) on steroids and, in an era where industry-government communications continue to struggle, that is no small thing.

Still, despite the exceptional level of dialogue, GSA still needs to address several core questions if the agency expects OASIS and the agencies using it to benefit from optimal competition, incentivize innovation, and create the greatest opportunities for success.

For example, GSA initially tied OASIS to the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI). At a forum co-hosted by PSC and three of our partner associations, the agency’s leaders explicitly cited OASIS’ link to FSSI and made clear that one key goal will be to drive down, and hold down, the cost of professional services.

While cost control remains a key element of the program, as it should, the emphasis on strategic sourcing seems to have since dissipated. Hopefully this is due to the realization that many of the services required under OASIS are not commodities, which is where strategic sourcing is most effective. Yet it remains a cloud hovering over the procurement and merits additional clarification.

Further, while company past performance will be heavily weighted in the source selection, past performance in a government environment will receive twice the credit that other past performance is given. GSA explains this is because it can validate government past performance through government databases, which do not capture commercial experience.

This raises several concerns. First, it assumes that the federal past performance database and process is up to date and effective. Yet every recent analysis has suggested quite the opposite. Government past performance records are often inadequate, outdated, and missing relevant information and context. Industry has long advocated the use of past performance, recognizing that it is the best indicator of future success. But we have also frequently noted that the current system is far from robust or reliable.

GSA’s acknowledgement that it lacks the capability to evaluate commercial past performance should itself be a concern.

If OASIS’ objective is to provide the best possible integration capabilities to federal agencies, shouldn’t one of the agency’s goals be to create a reference checking capability that would enable them to more effectively evaluate non-government performance?

Intentionally or not, the scoring plan assumes that the government’s record of integrating complex solutions is superior to that of the private sector, a rather dubious supposition that could bias the source selection against world class capabilities. Wouldn’t the extra effort required to check the performance of companies that have successfully performed similar work for major private customers expand the competitive base of providers on, and perhaps the innovations available through, OASIS? Wouldn’t that enhance the appeal of the contract to customer agencies?

There are a slew of other questions that have been raised and GSA will be addressing them in the next iteration. Those questions include how to handle the different size standards that apply to the major functional areas and the requirement that a bidder be ISO certified or make the case that they have a similar and equally effective quality certification. That latter requirement places yet more burdens on the bidder and raises the specter that those who are not ISO certified will be penalized if evaluators have inadequate knowledge or understanding of other, equally legitimate, third-party quality certifications that are well known in the commercial space.

Today’s professional services sector is broad and diverse and includes some services that are commodities and many others that clearly are not. Hopefully, GSA’s initial inclination to treat most or all professional services as commodities, and thus place all under a strategic sourcing construct, has been eliminated. That would be a dangerous road to head down.

But as we move to the next phase of OASIS, the answers to these and other core questions also remain essential. They will also tell us something about where the broader federal marketplace for professional services is headed.

Reader Comments

Mon, Apr 29, 2013 Rudy Sutherland United States

For GSA OASIS, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King ---------------------------------------------- When we were kids, our Mothers told us we could be whatever we wanted to be. Well, while this may be true, there are some things that are out of our control. When you went to your Dad, and said, “I want to be a Center in the NBA”, he may have said something akin to – “the average height in our family is 6’ so, unless you experience a tremendous growth spurt; you’d better reassess your career prospects.” This same rationale applies to those of you who aspired to be Mick Jagger growing up, and while you now find yourself successful in commerce, you’re most certainly not living the life of a 60 year old rock star. The same sobriety must be applied to pursuit of GSA OASIS. Now, taking on the practicality of many of our Fathers (and a few Old Spice commercials); look carefully at that GSA OASIS evaluation checklist in the RFI; now look at your company; now look back at the checklist… you either are what it says you need to be or you’re not. There is simply not enough time for you to morph. So you realize now that your trying out on American Idol, while exciting, is probably not going to change your career path. You have 3 choices now: 1) be a romantic and go after the impossible, 2) develop an alternative strategy to still be part of the game, or 3) quite. I am not much for quitters, so if chose option 3, you should stop reading now. Now, this time; look carefully at that GSA OASIS RFI overall; now look at your company; now look back at the RFI… ahhh, yes, in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King. You noticed that there is an embedded value proposition that you possess that you missed the first time around. It is one that is unique to each and every federal contractor – Relationships. You see, Rock Stars don’t make money without a fan base – they just as well might still be playing in their parents’ garage. What you know for certain is this: the folks that buy from you now do so because they like you. And, that is your ticket to getting backstage at the concert. Right now, you should be completing a response to the RFI – not for the purpose of competing, but for the purpose pre-selling GSA OASIS to your current clients and subsequently to the eventual Rock Stars to become a glorified Rodi. But you have another problem… the Rock Stars don’t know who you are. Well, we can help with that; the “Teaming Exchange” was incepted and formed for the practical purpose of meeting folks where they are, and helping as many Smalls to monetize this contract vehicle as possible – while mitigating risk for all involved. (to read the rest, goto: http://lnkd.in/GcWHf6 For more information on the GSA OASIS Teaming Exchange Business Case, visit: http://bit.ly/gsa-oasis Join OASIS Teaming Group on LinkedIn @ http://linkd.in/ZZMbk7

Fri, Apr 26, 2013 Rezident Klatura

Mr. Soloway: thank you for an exceptionally deep analysis of this odd draft RFP. With your leading expertise, you know where this is all heading (your last point): to more deeply troubled acquisition process, leading to more fouled up performance, courtesy of GSA dithering and fear. It will also lead to some of the bigger contractors taking license as it tries to shake money out of the government in an unforgiving contractual arena, rather like those Russian cage fighters. This road, increasingly traveled, is one with diminished profitability, commensurate with sagging contractor performance, in large part because stronger management and technology wizards are going to the private sector. We agree with your implication that commercial work just might be a tad more successful than large govt projects. (Of course, with the latter being successful with the frequency of solar eclipses, there is is--truly--little to compare.) The fact that GSA clearly fears checking commercial pp--and you know it it is more than a how-to problem--suggests GSA is more incompetent than anyone thought. It lacks the tech expertise, as well as the cojones. On your side of things, technology expertise is fleeing as butts-in-seats commodity people are tending to swamp the effete integration experts, both at the tech level and in the C suite. You know what Casey Stengel once said: "Can anyone here play this game?" And, as s once said in a large, but private, PSC seance: we get the kind of government we deserve (quoting de Tocqueville or some other old guy).

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