Line forms for FirstSource
- By Ethan Butterfield
- Jan 17, 2006
Small-business executives are making clear what they think about FirstSource, the Homeland Security Department's $3 billion IT contract.
It's an amazing opportunity, it's a beautiful thing, it's perfect, they said of the vehicle that will help DHS integrate and standardize its IT systems and tools.
The five-year, small-business set-aside contract lets companies that have a maximum of 150 employees bid as primes for an indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract meant to furnish DHS with interoperable IT equipment and software.
The department released the request for proposals Nov. 18, but pushed back the original due date for proposals to Jan. 23. Contract awards are scheduled for Feb. 24.
This vehicle, which lets small companies compete against each other rather than against large integrators, as well as the potentially large scope of the contract, has the small-business IT world buzzing.
"This provides an environment where some of the smalls can be entrepreneurial, have an opportunity to grow, develop those qualifications, past performances, and then compete for larger engagements," said David Phelps, president and CEO of Merlin Technical Solutions Inc. "I think it's very important for smalls to have this opportunity with DHS."
Teams, terms, experience
Merlin is a small, Greenwood Village, Colo., systems integrator that has work in DHS as well as in defense agencies. The company is bidding on FirstSource as a team leader, Phelps said. He declined to name its teammates, but said several large IT companies are backing Merlin.
FirstSource is a complementary contract to DHS' Enterprise Acquisition Gateway for Leading Edge Solutions (Eagle) program, meant to deliver IT support services. Eagle, a five-year, $45 billion opportunity, is set up to let its primes use FirstSource for any equipment requirements in their task orders, though Eagle does not mandate that they use FirstSource.
FirstSource will include opportunities in networking equipment, wireless technology, imaging products, voice recognition, online data reporting and a variety of tracking services as well as other IT hardware and software, according to DHS documents.
By providing an agencywide contracting vehicle, DHS is moving in the right direction toward full integration, Phelps said.
"Start standardizing your acquisition vehicles, then that starts to standardize the types of projects and methodologies you choose, and that's a part of the process of transformation," he said.
Most companies bidding on FirstSource are being less than completely open about their intentions, said Guy Timberlake, CEO of the American Small Business Coalition, which helps its members form alliances with larger companies.
"With it being hardware-based, it's a little easier to pick the pocket of your neighbor, whereas if it were services, there's a little bit more involved in trying to determine what their pricing structure may be, and what their load may be for a particular position," Timberlake said. "With a product, there's only so many places you can go."
One product company hoping to get in on the FirstSource action is VBrick Systems Inc. of Wallingford, Conn. VBrick delivers real-time and stored video over networks via a handheld device.
VBrick's capabilities and what FirstSource calls for are a perfect match, but VBrick will not bid as a prime contractor, said Rich Mavrogeanes, company founder and chief technology officer.
Because government agencies have such varied needs, the company's resources are better spent as a subcontractor, letting larger integrators put together the final solution, said John Bowman, VBrick federal territory manager.
Large companies will not be allowed to be primes on FirstSource, but they will be involved as teammates, a situation that Bowman called both positive and necessary.
"If you have a small business priming on something, and then you have something that has to be deployed across an 8,000 mile fence, you're going to need somebody with a little bit of wherewithal to get it in there. That goes to the large manufacturers of products and the larger integrators," Bowman said.
Working with larger companies will give small businesses valuable experience and also help them build relationships for future partnerships, Timberlake said.
"From an experience standpoint, it's priceless," he said. "These companies are gaining points just by being out there. Other companies and agencies are going to notice them for being in that competitive field."
Some industry officials expressed concern that only incumbent businesses had been winning work with DHS; FirstSource will allow for more competition and possibly more innovation, VBrick's Mavrogeanes said.
"Any government initiative that drives more business toward smaller companies results in a better product and more innovation, and that ultimately helps the government and helps us all," Mavrogeanes said.
Staff Writer Ethan Butterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.