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By Nick Wakeman

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Nick Wakeman

Does NetCents 2 still make sense?

As we’ve covered the ups and down of NetCents and NetCents 2 over the last few months, several questions keep coming up: Why the delays and why the protests?

I know I’ve questioned the competence of the Air Force’s handling of NetCents, and I don’t want to just beat on them but the procurement is troubling.

The latest round of protests involving the NetCents 2 Application Services Small Business contract has triggered several thoughts in my mind and sources close to the procurement have echoed those thoughts.

When the original solicitation came out, the Air Force’s expectation was that six to 9 small businesses would receive awards. In the end it was 12, which begs the question: Why not more? Why not make an award to every company that was technically acceptable?

There would be more competition and more opportunities for small businesses. Those are good things.

One of the protesting small businesses apparently was found technically acceptable and had stellar past performance, according to a source. But the Air Force didn’t trust the government references that supplied the past performance qualifications. The Air Force said they weren’t relevant, according to this source.

But the company does software development work and sustains and upgrades legacy systems, and isn’t that an important part of what the Air Force wants from NetCents 2? How can that kind of past performance not be relevant? I guess that is a question the protest will answer.

To me it seems the Air Force’s decision was arbitrary, which doesn’t bode well for NetCents 2 overall.

But with the delays and protests, my concern is that NetCents 2 is such a mess it may never be effective.

With the delays and protests, the confidence of its potential users is eroding and they are moving work from NetCents to other task order contracts such as the Army ITES program and the General Services Administration’s Alliant contract, a source told me.

And think of the tens of millions of dollars contractors are spending on bid and proposal costs. And with each delay – there have been 10 so far – those costs keep rising.

What should the Air Force do?

How about canceling the program and shifting the work to other contracts? A step back is needed to assess the need for the contract and how to create a better procurement that meets the needs of the Air Force.

Of course, all of this begs one last question: Does each service really need its own vehicle? Why not a joint procurement? Surely, the vast majority of IT purchases among the services are similar in nature. And the contract could be designed with the agility and flexibility built in that would give each service the ability to design task orders that would meet their needs when something special is needed.

The Air Force could benefit from a fresh start. It just needs someone with the guts to step up and cancel NetCents 2.

Posted by Nick Wakeman on Jul 11, 2012 at 9:52 AM

Reader Comments

Sat, Jul 21, 2012 George T. Reston, VA

No, this does make sense. After nearly 4 years, they still can't execute a flawed strategy. Will they keep extending the original Netcents to respond to protests? Somebody please show courage and do the right thing.

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 Wesley Asato Colorado

Good question Nick. They could have been executing task orders on GSA Alliant three years ago and could start tomorrow if they wanted. Makes one wonder what the objective is: cost effective work or a contract vehicle.

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 Michael Forsgren, CFCM WPAFB

As a young, inexperienced (i.e. erudite and curious) AF CO involved in software development myself, my belief is that the acquisition professionals of the AF are not yet conditioned for this type of work. It's explainable - we draw on our past EXPERIENCES, mainly in aircraft weapon systems, because they worked. We don't draw on new EXPERIMENTS when we enter new territory, like we should. Instead, we fear Government waste and the mere implication of it; therefore, we will die doing what worked on a very different requirement, and we will argue the justification of that in retrospect when it doesn't work this time around. IT procurement is so new that it still needs to be experimented upon, and its acquisition pros need to be able and willing to fail, as well as recognize when they succeeded. The results of the successful experiments should be codified by law then promulgated into entirely separate regulations, with allowances for localized adaptation. Till then, I can only apologize to the taxpayer for my own failures to sell experimental strategies up my chain of command. It's not easy bucking the tendency to regress to the mean.

Thu, Jul 12, 2012 Barry Schaeffer Virginia

It would seem that the model used by the GSA multiple award schedules ("GSA Contracts" in common usage) would be a good one for the Air Force and other agencies looking to solve complex, multiyear problems with private sector help. First, the agency cannot possibly know all of what it will be facing and thus cannot possibly know which bidders are best going in. Second, the GSA MAS structure is already built and supported, allowing the agency to piggyback on it. Using the MAS, the agency can hold a functional competition as each challenge becomes clear, allowing all qualified bidderes to compete based on their GSA MAS contract thus opening a much wider range of offers. My little firm used this with a number of agencies over its 17 year life, won some, lost some but was always in the running when we needed to be. I suspect the Air Force is about to fall on its sword... again.

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