Does NetCents 2 still make sense?

The Air Force needs to take some radical action to rescue NetCents 2. But it might already be too late.

As we’ve covered the ups and down of NetCents and NetCents 2 over the last few months, several questions keep coming up: Why the delays and why the protests?

I know I’ve questioned the competence of the Air Force’s handling of NetCents, and I don’t want to just beat on them but the procurement is troubling.

The latest round of protests involving the NetCents 2 Application Services Small Business contract has triggered several thoughts in my mind and sources close to the procurement have echoed those thoughts.

When the original solicitation came out, the Air Force’s expectation was that six to 9 small businesses would receive awards. In the end it was 12, which begs the question: Why not more? Why not make an award to every company that was technically acceptable?

There would be more competition and more opportunities for small businesses. Those are good things.

One of the protesting small businesses apparently was found technically acceptable and had stellar past performance, according to a source. But the Air Force didn’t trust the government references that supplied the past performance qualifications. The Air Force said they weren’t relevant, according to this source.

But the company does software development work and sustains and upgrades legacy systems, and isn’t that an important part of what the Air Force wants from NetCents 2? How can that kind of past performance not be relevant? I guess that is a question the protest will answer.

To me it seems the Air Force’s decision was arbitrary, which doesn’t bode well for NetCents 2 overall.

But with the delays and protests, my concern is that NetCents 2 is such a mess it may never be effective.

With the delays and protests, the confidence of its potential users is eroding and they are moving work from NetCents to other task order contracts such as the Army ITES program and the General Services Administration’s Alliant contract, a source told me.

And think of the tens of millions of dollars contractors are spending on bid and proposal costs. And with each delay – there have been 10 so far – those costs keep rising.

What should the Air Force do?

How about canceling the program and shifting the work to other contracts? A step back is needed to assess the need for the contract and how to create a better procurement that meets the needs of the Air Force.

Of course, all of this begs one last question: Does each service really need its own vehicle? Why not a joint procurement? Surely, the vast majority of IT purchases among the services are similar in nature. And the contract could be designed with the agility and flexibility built in that would give each service the ability to design task orders that would meet their needs when something special is needed.

The Air Force could benefit from a fresh start. It just needs someone with the guts to step up and cancel NetCents 2.