GSA, DISA ready $5B satellite opportunity
Ed O'Hare lays out GSA's strategy for working with other agencies and streamlining procurement
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is part two of a three-part interview with Ed O'Hare, GSA's assistant commissioner of IT Services. Click here for part one.
The solicitation for the $5 billion, 10-year Future Commercial Satellite Communications Services Acquisition will be issued Feb. 9, said the General Services Administration’s assistant commissioner of IT Services.
That was the target date, said Ed O’Hare, and that’s when it’s going to be issued.
The multiple-award schedule and indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity FCSA is a joint venture of GSA and the Defense Information Systems Agency. It’s intended to replace satellite communications contracts that will expire over the next two and a half years and will be open to defense and civilian agencies as well as state, local and tribal governments, public schools and colleges, and public authorities.
Washington Technology contributing editor Sami Lais talked with O’Hare about the evolutionary path of contracting at GSA as well as the Future Commercial Satellite Communications Acquisition and its role in that evolution.
Q: Last April, when you first took over as assistant commissioner of IT services, you talked about reducing the number of governmentwide acquisition contracts.
O’HARE: It’s interesting. The [hypothetical] question was: ‘Are there too many GWACs?’ A Schedule contract and a GWAC are what I’ll call empty baskets. There’s no money, there’s not even the possibility; it’s just the first step. Now, I’ve worked in industry, in big and small businesses and I can tell you, preparing proposals is expensive. So how many times are you going to make companies write proposals for empty baskets? Sooner or later, one way or another, the taxpayer ends up paying for it.
I have too many GWACs. We are rationalizing our portfolio of services so we will have the minimum number of GWACs that can accomplish all the goals. We just let Millennia expire. Alliant is now our flagship.
Q: So you’ll be looking to do more acquisitions like the Future Commercial Satellite Communications Acquisition contract you’re doing with the Defense Information Systems Agency?
O’HARE: Soon we’re going to drop that "Future." We’re going to drop that "F" because the solicitation will be issued Feb. 9.
We just met with Lt. Gen. Carroll Pollett, director of DISA [and commander of the Joint Task Force on Global Network Operations] for a quarterly update. It was a no-issues brief.
WT: No issues? Really?
O’HARE: Really. [Laughs] They tell me that that’s always the brief you want to have with a commanding general. We’re on target and on schedule.
I could talk ComSatCom, the coming together with DISA, all day as a model for us moving forward. DISA had DSTS-G [Defense Information System Network (DISN) Satellite Transmission Service-Global] contract, and we have our SatCom II. There are some others, and they’re competing with each other. DISA would do one and industry would respond to that; then we’d do one and industry would respond to that — all for the same business for the same services.
We’ve come together, we know what the requirements are, we split it into three segments: bandwidth, services and specialized solutions.
For the first two we’re going to depend on the commercial market, that’s the Schedules program, it’s what the schedule is built on — commerciality, with the proper information assurance requirements built around it, because this is critical information. That’s the gist of the Feb. 9 solicitation.
Q: Requirements change all the time. What happens when they change?
O’HARE: The schedule changes all the time. This is Release 25 of the IT Schedule. [laughs] A change has to be made? That’ll be Release 26.
When we do those changes, if it’s a cardinal change, the vendors can opt in or opt out; they have that option. That is the beauty of the schedules program.
And it’s open season; vendors can come to it at any time. So if there’s a new commercial product that has applicability to the commercial satellite communications realm, the vendor gets on the schedule and it’s available. And it’s available not only to DOD; it’s available to the entire federal government. All the benefits of those information assurance requirements are passed along to the entire federal government, and state and local governments, which is incredibly important when you think about first responders.
Q: One other FCSA question I have is how did it get put together? Did DISA come to you? Did you approach DISA?
O’HARE: [Laughs loudly] All business is relationship-based. You do business with people you trust, whom you know and who know you. John Grimes was the Defense Department CIO [and assistant secretary of defense for networks and information integration]. One person he mentored was John Johnson. [Laughs] Now, I closed the deal. I had the honor of closing the deal. John Johnson left me a wonderful organization with plenty of opportunities. That ComSatCom deal was one that hadn’t been consummated when both he and John Grimes retired. It took some work. I mentioned the whole idea of commerciality. So I’m going to take credit for closing this deal. [Laughs] And I’m also going to take credit for getting the first sale on it. But again, it’s a DISA-GSA relationship, and we’ll continue to build on it.
Q: You’ve talked about a vetting process to ensure you’re not writing contracts for inadequate...
O’HARE: We call them quality contracts. What’s different with ComSatCom is we’re creating two new special item numbers (SINs) — one for the bandwidth and one for the subscription services — and within those two SINs, there’ll be brand new terms and conditions that speak to information assurance.
My guess is that’s going to call up some conversations, some discussions because some people are going to say, "Here’s GSA taking the Schedules program away from commerciality."
We worked really hard and had a lot of pushback and had a lot of meetings. But anybody who thinks information assurance isn’t something we need to do is — hey, c’mon!
Yeah, we’re buying commercial products but we’re buying them in a federal implementation, and that’s why we have a contract with additional terms. We also have a Trade Agreements Act; that’s not a commercial practice, but it’s in there.
Q: As agencies move to cloud computing, how will it change how companies use IDIQ contracts?
O’HARE: I don’t know why you limit it to IDIQs.
Q: OK, yes, you’re right.
O’HARE: I would say: How is cloud going to change the way companies contract for enterprise resources? Right?
O’HARE: The diametrically opposed alternative is for everybody to run out and buy their own blade servers and install them in some closet they call a computer room and write their application and run it there. Well, I’m not going to do that.
Instead it’s going to cloud computing, which is to say: Buy your resources on demand. Of course, cloud comprises more than that. There’s software as a service, infrastructure as a service, platform as a service — that’s from the NIST definition, and that’s three different conversations.
I was CIO here and my marketing crowd, the Customer Accounts and Research Office, said, "We need some kind of customer relationship management system." CRM implementations tend to be those big systems where it’s, OK, let me go get $10 million and hire a bunch of people and buy — and I said, "Let’s try one of these software as a service CRM packages."
I had to pinch myself. In weeks, not years, for very little money, we stood up a full-fledged CRM capability. I didn’t buy any infrastructure, I didn’t hire any extra programmers, I don’t have to deal with backing it up. It’s one of those software-as-a-service guys, you can probably guess who it is — remarkable.
That’s software as a service, and Apps.gov now has those products on schedule.
The next thing you’ll see on Apps.gov is infrastructure as a service, which is a little bit different slant. We have that solicitation on the street, and any day now that award will be made.
Part 3: If the song on the Networx telecommunications contract transition sounds awfully, depressingly familiar — sure, it’s woefully behind but it’s about to turn the corner — the long-awaited, forever-in-the-making, awarded-at-last (May 2009) Alliant seems to be whistling a new tune, one that no one seems to be protesting.
Sami Lais is a special contributor to Washington Technology.