SEWP: It's on the money

NASA purchasing vehicle gaining popularity

In the mix: Ingredients of the Scientific and Engineering Workstation Program (SEWP) IV

Agency: NASA

Description: SEWP IV is the follow-on program to SEWP III, which agencies can use to buy computers, high-end scientific and engineering services, peripherals and network equipment.

Duration: Seven years

Value: $6.5 billion

Number of awards: Up to 39

RFPs due: June 22

Award date: Late September to October

Contracts will be awarded in the following:

Category A: PCs and servers

Class 1: Mass storage servers, 2-3 awards

Class 2: Database servers, 2-3 awards

Class 3: High-performance visualization workstations, 2-3 awards

Class 4: High-performance compute servers, 2-3 awards

Class 5: Science and engineering general purpose PCs, 2-3 awards

Category B: Complementary products

Class 6: Server support devices, small business set aside, 4-6 awards

Class 7: High-end networking, 2-3 awards

Class 8: Computer security systems and tools, 2-3 awards

Class 9: Mass storage devices, service disabled veteran-owned small-business set aside, 4-6 awards

Class 10: Advanced video and conference tools, 2-3 awards

Class 11: Multifunctional printers, 2-3 awards

NASA's SEWP IV contract could become the government's IT product purchasing vehicle of choice, surpassing General Services Administration schedules and other agency contracts ? so says not only NASA, but also companies on the SEWP III program and those planning to bid on its successor.

The space agency May 5 issued a request for proposals for its Scientific and Engineering Workstation Program IV, a seven-year, $6.5 billion, governmentwide contract for IT products. Companies have until June 22 to submit bids.

"Increasingly, it is a vehicle that agencies consider as an alternative to buying through GSA schedule contracts, and we just think it's a good idea to have one or two alternatives," said Stephen Charles, co-founder and executive vice president of immixGroup Inc. The McLean, Va., company plans to bid on SEWP IV.

ImmixGroup, which ranks No. 65 on Washington Technology's 2006 Top 100 list, also acts as a sales agent that helps other companies sell products on SEWP III through a contract held by its partner, Sword & Shield Enterprise Security Inc. of Knoxville, Tenn.

Popular channel

Buying IT goods and services via governmentwide contracts has exploded in popularity with federal agencies. About 2,300 federal locations place more than 1,100 orders each month under SEWP III, according to immixGroup.

In addition to GSA's Schedule 70s for IT products and services and NASA's SEWP III contract, the National Institutes of Health also has a governmentwide contract for IT products. Its Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners 2 Innovations contract, known as CIO-SP2i, lets federal agencies buy IT hardware, software, systems and services.

The traffic on SEWP IV might get a boost from the Veterans Affairs Department, which is considering using it instead of its Procurement of Computer Hardware and Software-3 program, known as PCHS-3, industry and government sources said.

The program would provide commercial computer hardware and software for VA offices nationwide.
The department has suspended its five-year, $4 billion program until it finishes reviewing the results from a study to determine its IT needs.

Meanwhile, NASA is talking with agencies about using SEWP for their IT product purchases, said Joanne Woytek, NASA's SEWP program manager. Those agencies should make the announcements themselves once they decide, she said.

Jo Schuda, a senior public affairs officer who specializes in IT issues at Veterans Affairs, called the issue a "contract-sensitive decision," and said the department is "exploring other governmentwide enterprise contracts to determine if they can be used to meet VA's needs."

Schuda declined to name specific contracts. VA expects to select the acquisition strategies that best meet its IT needs within the next 30 to 60 days, she said.

Wave of bids is coming

NASA expects to be inundated with bids later this month for SEWP IV. As of late May, about 300 companies had accessed the RFP via the Web site, Woytek said. With multiple awards to be made for SEWP IV, NASA could get as many as 100 proposals, she said.

The contract has specific features, in addition to potential awards totaling several billions of dollars, to whet contractors' appetites. SEWP IV's flexibility, high level of customer service, attractive fee structure and new opportunities for small businesses add to its attractions.

The SEWP program is flexible enough to allow fast, easy additions of new technologies, industry sources said.

"It's easy for clients to use, it's easy for us as a vendor to set up and manage, and it's very simple and straightforward for us to get new products onto the schedule, so that we can have faster deployments and developments with our clients," said Jeff Babcock, senior director of the federal division at Kronos Inc. of Chelmsford, Mass. Kronos is on the SEWP III contract.

When the company in September 2004 acquired 3I Systems, it took a while for it to sunset the 3I's old GSA schedule and get a new one, Babcock said.

In the meantime, Kronos needed a vehicle to quickly sell its products to the Homeland Security Department, and NASA's SEWP contract let it add 3I's products and make them almost immediately available to DHS. Kronos would have had to wait almost six months to list the acquired company's products with GSA, he said.

Training comes free

NASA's emphasis on customer service is another reason why contractors are drawn to SEWP IV. The space agency will require mandatory training for sellers and buyers that use it.

NASA will have agency personnel train contractors and their sales staff on how to use SEWP IV, Woytek said. Such training was voluntary under SEWP III, she said.

NASA also will provide free, two-hour training sessions for agency customers to ensure they adhere to federal acquisition regulations when using SEWP IV, she said.

NASA is very focused on the customer, and takes "great pains in making sure their program fits squarely within the law and the regulations," immixGroup's Charles said.

NASA charges the lowest fees to contractors that sell products through its SEWP program. The agency charges a 0.65 percent fee, compared to GSA's fee of 0.75 percent, and has a $10,000 cap on all product orders, Woytek said.

Small businesses also will find a home on SEWP IV. The contract has two small-business set asides, one specifically for service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses, a key change from SEWP III, Woytek said.

SEWP III has 19 contractors, including 16 competed prime contractors, eight of which are small businesses, and three noncompeted 8(a) set-aside contractors.

The ordering period under SEWP III has been extended for six months to Jan. 29, 2007. Most, if not all, current contract holders are expected to submit bids for the new program. The June 22 due date will be followed by a 30- to 45-day evaluation period, depending on the number of bids that must be reviewed, Woytek said.

The multiple-award contract has 11 classifications for PCs and complementary products. NASA will issue two or three awards for each of the nine full-and-open competitions, and four to six awards for the two small-business set asides, Woytek said.

NASA likely will issue awards in late September or early October.

"We've been doing this now for 14 years," Woytek said. "We know how to work with the vendors and work with the government agencies because of that experience. I think that plays a big role in it."

Staff Writer Roseanne Gerin can be reached at rgerin@postnewsweektech.com.

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