Plenty of unanswered questions about $10B OASIS contract
Will it be an oasis for professional services or a mirage?
- By Stan Soloway
- Apr 26, 2013
One of the most closely watched procurements of the year is the General Services Administration’s proposed OASIS vehicle, a multiple award contract designed to provide integration services for complex solutions. GSA issued the draft request for proposals in March and is expected to issue the final request for proposals later this summer.
To its great credit, in developing the RFP, the agency has engaged in what can only be described as one of the most open and continual efforts to engage with the private sector that we have seen.
There seems to be no forum at which GSA leaders, particularly OASIS Program Manager Jim Ghiloni, will not appear to answer questions, absorb feedback and share perspectives. While the ultimate impact of that outreach will not be known until the process is complete, no one can claim that GSA has failed to communicate.
It’s been “Mythbusters” (the Office of Management and Budget memo) on steroids and, in an era where industry-government communications continue to struggle, that is no small thing.
Still, despite the exceptional level of dialogue, GSA still needs to address several core questions if the agency expects OASIS and the agencies using it to benefit from optimal competition, incentivize innovation, and create the greatest opportunities for success.
For example, GSA initially tied OASIS to the Federal Strategic Sourcing Initiative (FSSI). At a forum co-hosted by PSC and three of our partner associations, the agency’s leaders explicitly cited OASIS’ link to FSSI and made clear that one key goal will be to drive down, and hold down, the cost of professional services.
While cost control remains a key element of the program, as it should, the emphasis on strategic sourcing seems to have since dissipated. Hopefully this is due to the realization that many of the services required under OASIS are not commodities, which is where strategic sourcing is most effective. Yet it remains a cloud hovering over the procurement and merits additional clarification.
Further, while company past performance will be heavily weighted in the source selection, past performance in a government environment will receive twice the credit that other past performance is given. GSA explains this is because it can validate government past performance through government databases, which do not capture commercial experience.
This raises several concerns. First, it assumes that the federal past performance database and process is up to date and effective. Yet every recent analysis has suggested quite the opposite. Government past performance records are often inadequate, outdated, and missing relevant information and context. Industry has long advocated the use of past performance, recognizing that it is the best indicator of future success. But we have also frequently noted that the current system is far from robust or reliable.
GSA’s acknowledgement that it lacks the capability to evaluate commercial past performance should itself be a concern.
If OASIS’ objective is to provide the best possible integration capabilities to federal agencies, shouldn’t one of the agency’s goals be to create a reference checking capability that would enable them to more effectively evaluate non-government performance?
Intentionally or not, the scoring plan assumes that the government’s record of integrating complex solutions is superior to that of the private sector, a rather dubious supposition that could bias the source selection against world class capabilities. Wouldn’t the extra effort required to check the performance of companies that have successfully performed similar work for major private customers expand the competitive base of providers on, and perhaps the innovations available through, OASIS? Wouldn’t that enhance the appeal of the contract to customer agencies?
There are a slew of other questions that have been raised and GSA will be addressing them in the next iteration. Those questions include how to handle the different size standards that apply to the major functional areas and the requirement that a bidder be ISO certified or make the case that they have a similar and equally effective quality certification. That latter requirement places yet more burdens on the bidder and raises the specter that those who are not ISO certified will be penalized if evaluators have inadequate knowledge or understanding of other, equally legitimate, third-party quality certifications that are well known in the commercial space.
Today’s professional services sector is broad and diverse and includes some services that are commodities and many others that clearly are not. Hopefully, GSA’s initial inclination to treat most or all professional services as commodities, and thus place all under a strategic sourcing construct, has been eliminated. That would be a dangerous road to head down.
But as we move to the next phase of OASIS, the answers to these and other core questions also remain essential. They will also tell us something about where the broader federal marketplace for professional services is headed.
Stan Soloway is a former deputy undersecretary of Defense and former president and chief executive officer of the Professional Services Council. He is now the CEO of Celero Strategies.