WT Industry Day: Inside the Commerce Department's IT opportunities

Commerce Department executives share their insights about upcoming opportunities, IT priorities and the procurement culture at the department's largest bureaus.

In the first of our series of Washington Technology Industry Days, we take deep dive into the IT priorities, opportunities and procurement culture of the Commerce Department.

We had representatives this morning from some of the Commerce Department's major bureaus, and each government executive emphasized a desire to partner effectively with contractors. Each also highlighted opportunities for contractors to keep their eyes on in the near future.

Our next industry day will focus on the Defense Department and is scheduled for July 23.

COMMERCE IT OVERVIEW

Carey Webster, director, federal information solutions at Deltek kicked off the sessions outlining where the IT opportunities within the Commerce Department are.

Commerce budget breakdown

The department has named three focus areas in their IT budget, Webster said, and they are strategy, shared services, and infrastructure.

“As you’re looking at the overall IT budget, I’m not just paying lip service by saying that infrastructure is the focus. There is a huge focus on infrastructure, and you see that within a number of agencies within Commerce,” Webster said.

Commerce’s overall IT budget request is a little over $2.3 billion for 2016, which is about an 8 percent increase from fiscal 2015.

Webster broke down the amount of contractor addressable IT spending, which accounts for all the money that the Commerce Department gets from the government that is left over after employee costs and meant for contracting.

The top three key IT investments, according to Deltek, are the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Network and Security Infrastructure II ($273.2 million), the 2020 Census ($181.7 million) and the Census IT Infrastructure ($131.6 million).

Webster also described which agencies within the Commerce Department had the most money to contract out, with USPTO leading with $587.6 million, Census in second with $446.5 million, and NOAA in third with $409.3 million.

“One of the interesting things I saw about Census is that they really don’t have that many IT specific contracts. When you look at the contracts that they’re using, they’re using a lot of schedules like IT 70, they’re using a lot of GWACs like Alliant and CIO-SP3. This is good news for contractors,” Webster said.

Webster added that the three takeaways from the Commerce Department at large is that DME spending is on the rise, the 2020 Census is a solid opportunity for contractors, and that Commerce prefers using GSA schedules and GWACs to procure its IT needs.

NOAA OVERVIEW

NOAA’s goals for the future are, by extension, the same goals of the Commerce Department, said Marcelle Loveday, branch chief for IT services, Office of Acquisition and Grants, Strategic Sourcing Acquisition Division, NOAA.

In her presentation, Loveday put NOAA on the map of where contractors can help out, but also addressed some challenges that the agency faces.

Marcelle Loveday

Marcelle Loveday reviews IT opportunities at NOAA.

Those goals include: trade and investment, innovation, environment, data, and operational excellence. “And when we look at this from a NOAA perspective, we look to the environment,” said Loveday.

NOAA is an agency that deals with a lot of information. “We are an agency that collects information, we store that information, we analyze that information, and then we share that information. And where we have information, we have information technology, and where we have that, we have [contractors], we have acquisition,” Loveday said.

The agency, however, faces a number of procurement challenges not the least of which is preparing and editing statements of work and specifications, source selection—including making a level playing field, LPTA versus best value, communication and cost and price analysis—and contract administration—including inspection and acceptance, changes and partial funding from the government.

The agencies’ needs are unique, so NOAA needs time to figure out exactly what it is that they need from contractors. “Once we figure out what we need, we need to figure out whom amongst [contractors] is the best to provide it, and we want to be fair about this, we want to have integrity so that you feel comfortable and you have trust in our process,” Loveday said.

However, “there will be times when lowest price technically acceptable is the appropriate procedure, but more and more, it’s really a tradeoff between price and technical, and that’s going to be what allows us to capture best value” she said.

As for actual opportunities contractors should look out for, NOAA is recompeting its 8(a) contract, which has reached its ceiling of $300 million. The agency’s small business contract is still up and running, as well, and has not reached its $2.5 billion ceiling.

NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OVERVIEW

The National Weather Services’ needs are centered around weather information, and the agency wants to be able to push it out quickly and accurately, said John Murphy, chief operating officer, National Weather Service.

John Murphy

John Murphy shares his insights on the needs of the National Weather Service.

“But it’s not enough to be accurate. People need clear information, and they need to have resources and know how the weather is going to impact them,” Murphy said. “We can’t continue to do business the way we did 20 or 30 years ago. You don’t run your businesses that way, and we can’t run ours that way.”

The United States was faced with 119 weather events in 2014, which is fewer than in previous years, but Murphy warned to not be complacent and accept that the country has already hit its peak of weather disasters.

“The bottom line is our economy is more susceptible, our people are more susceptible. It’s not just the climate, we have a growing population, and most of them are coastal,” Murphy said.

The agency’s main priority is to create a weather-ready nation. In order to do that, Murphy said, the National Weather Service is focused on creating an organization capable of innovation and change, providing tools for consistent products and services, building a team within a fully integrated field structure, and creating partnerships for a weather-ready nation.

The agency has made marked improvements over the years. “In my career, I have seen the community go from uncertainty at the 24-hour point—almost flipping the coin at 24 hours—to where we’re now pushing it out in about 14 days. We are reasonably confident out about two weeks,” Murphy said. But there is always room for improvement.

The National Weather Service also is undergoing a realign of its organization, and Murphy suggested contractors check it out and learn who they need to talk to in order to achieve maximum efficiency when it comes to communication.

NIST OVERVIEW

NIST emphasized its desire to partner with small businesses. “In FY14, we awarded 72 percent of our acquisition dollars to small businesses,” said Keith Bubar, contracting officer and contract specialist, NIST.

Together with Todd Hill, team leader/Team C, contracting officer, NIST/Office of Acquisition and Agreements Management, the two said that they were boots-on-the-ground contracting officers and were very concerned with working with contractors.

The agency has percentage goals for both prime contractors and subcontractors, with NIST allotting most of its dollars to general small businesses (49 percent to prime and 30 percent to subcontractors), and moving onto the various small business designations.

The agency also puts emphasis on doing work with 8(a) companies, but prefers to do so with companies involved in 8(a) mentor-protégé programs. “We have been very successful at NIST getting 8(a) companies as they grow and mature to actually mentor up and coming and new 8(a) companies,” Hill said.

“One way for us to be comfortable and stay in that marketplace is through the mentor-protégé relationships,” he added.

The two presenters emphasized how contractors can find NIST opportunities: for acquisitions over $150,000, the agency posts opportunities on the Federal Interagency Databases online at www.fido.gov. “NIST does have its own solicitation webpage,” Bubar said, which contractors can also access to look up opportunities.

“We’re going to be doing oral solicitations between $15,000 and $25,000. Our end users, our customers find three or four or five sources, and we compete orally with those vendors,” Hill said. The agency makes that information publically available so that other vendors can get involved if they happened to not know about the solicitation.

Acquisitions that are over $25,000 are filed on FedBizOpps. But it does not stop there, Hill said; the agency uses a number of vehicles to satisfy its needs, including FedBizOpps, GSA e-Buy, GSA 8(a) STARS II GWAC, SEWP V and CIO-SP3, among others.

As far as opportunities go, NIST is planning a number of multiple-award IDIQs around IT services, software development, testing, and support for IT and database applications.

USPTO OVERVIEW

Scott Palmer

Scott Palmer explains procurement priorities at USPTO.

USPTO has come a long way since it was founded in 1790, having just made its nine millionth patent, said Scott Palmer, director, Office of Procurement-U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Over the years, the agency’s priorities have changed, too.

USPTO top-level priorities include patent quality, patent backlog, and innovation over maintenance, Palmer said. Its priorities are influencing the agency’s fiscal 2016 priorities, which include standardizing agile framework, continuing implementation of DevOps, capital IT investments of around $740 million, and supporting patent quality initiatives.

“IT spending dominates PTO,” Palmer said, “and if you’re not doing business with me, you should want to. I should know who you are.”

He then outlined a number of projects and estimated ceiling amounts. A few are:

PTO priority projects
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