The General Services Administration, which serves as the procurement arm of the US federal government, recently announced the winners of its Alliant government-wide acquisition contract, a vehicle that civilian agencies and the Department of Defense can use to purchase up to $50bn in IT services over the next 10 years.
The list of companies chosen as prime vendors under Alliant includes the top defense contractors, systems integrators, and federal services providers in the market: Accenture; Advanced Management Technology; Alion Science and Technology; AT&T; BAE; BearingPoint; Booz Allen Hamilton; CACI; CSC; Dynamic Research; EDS; General Dynamics; Harris; Indus; IBM; ITS; L-3 Communications; Lockheed Martin; ManTech; Modern Technologies; NCI; QSS Group; Raytheon; RS Information Systems; SAIC; SI International; Systems Research and Applications; Northrop Grumman; and Unisys.
The contract includes a five-year base term and one five-year option. The 29 companies selected for the contract will now be able to compete for work from federal agencies, although there’s no guarantee that they will win anything simply by being chosen. Alliant is a follow-up to current GSA contracts Millennia and ANSWER, which expire in December 2008 and April 2009, respectively.
But the Alliant contract is not the only way federal agencies will be able to procure services. In fact the federal government has become more creative in the acquisition vehicles it uses, with agencies often using their own internal contract management channels or even vehicles developed by other agencies for outsourcing work.
In fact, while federal contract vehicles have proliferated in the last five years, GSA’s share of them has declined, which suggest that Alliant might fall well short of its $50bn ceiling, according to John Slye, manager of federal industry analysis at Input, a government business research group. The overall contract vehicle spending doubled between 2002 and 2006, he said. Maybe one-third were GSA vehicles in 2002, but that was down to one-fourth or one-fifth in 2006.
An Input report released this week looked at the recent historical trends of GSA vehicles versus non-GSA vehicles. Judging from the past level of contract activity under Millennia, ANSWER, and some other vehicles being rolled into Alliant, Input forecasts only $7.5bn in Alliant spending over the 10-year period.
Looking at Millennia, under which spending has been flat in recent years, and ANSWER, which showed some growth between 2002 and 2005, there was a peak of around $730m in combined spending from both programs in 2005, but that figure dropped to $575m in 2006, partly in anticipation of Alliant, Slye said.
There’s a trend toward agencies wanting to use multiple-award and indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts. The GSA schedule has been struggling lately. Agencies want to stretch their IT dollars and avoid GSA’s contract management fees. They’re bringing the contracting process in house, for a little more control and visibility, Slye said.
This isn’t to say that Alliant isn’t a good contract, Slye noted. But he foresees an uphill battle, especially with the largest agencies. The trend away from GSA vehicles is even more pronounced among defense agencies, which have strong internal programs and also use other vehicles such as NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise Wide Procurement, which has lower fees than the GSA and a well regarded customer service focus, he said.
Over at Lockheed Martin, the nation’s top defense firm, there’s some optimism that Alliant could usher in a new set of broader government contracts, even though it won’t replace all the agency vehicles already in use. Jeffrey Chesko, Lockheed’s Alliant program manager, said that the company has Millennia task orders that are due for recompetes, so agencies will have to decide which vehicle to use. And since there’s time remaining under Millennia and ANSWER, customers can still place five-year orders under these contracts. We’re not sure if GSA will still be pushing any of these, but some customers may find it easier to keep using them, he said.
The flexibility and scope under Alliant could be a selling point for some agencies, Chesko explained. Most of the IDIQs and GWACs are limited and clearly define the scope of work. But there are always new technologies and services, and a lot of the IDIQs are already set up and can’t accommodate the change. So the vehicles lose their functionality.
Alliant is tied to the Office of Management and Budget’s Federal Enterprise Architecture initiative, which seeks to simplify processes and similar work across government agencies. This means a broader range of services covering all regions of the country, a departure from past contracts, said Ted Davies, managing partner for civilian agencies at Unisys Federal Systems.
Davies said there were two main mechanisms for awards under federal acquisition vehicles, either issuing task order to all participating vendors or subselecting vendors to compete for certain deals. Alliant orders will be open to all 29 prime recipients, he said. Plus there should be a wide range of task orders, combining the larger average award size under Millennia–between $40m and $50m–and the more numerous, but smaller Answer deals, typically below $10m each, he said.
Alliant will become a vehicle of choice for many agencies, said Davies, who will be encouraging Unisys’ long-term federal clients to look at Alliant. If you look at DoD and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] some of the work will flow through Alliant, some through other vehicles. Plus many civilian agencies see value here and will be looking hard at Alliant. Smaller agencies that don’t want their acquisition workforce strained will probably outsource acquisition management.
As for the vendors, whether their federal customers opt for Alliant or their own vehicles shouldn’t affect their federal business stream that much. Input’s Slye said they should be cautiously optimistic about Alliant. The large firms will hold multiple contracts through Alliant and agency-specific contracts and IDIQs, he said. Ultimately, the agencies are going to decide which way to go.
Davies said many of the vendors are regionally aligned or have bigger footprints at certain agencies, and their work under Alliant will likely be geared toward these focus areas. Unisys, for example, is deepest within the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Treasury. And it has a strong business with DHS through its work through the Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection.
Even though the prime contractors have been chosen, there are a few things to still look out for on the Alliant front. Another 37 companies submitted proposals for Alliant but weren’t picked; expect these companies to get in on the action with subcontracts, or even lodge protests with GSA over the selection process. Lately it hasn’t been uncommon for firms to protest big federal contracts–the last thing any contractor want sis to be locked out of a sizeable acquisition vehicle for five or 10 years.
The GSA also plans to award its Alliant Small Business GWAC later this year. Meanwhile, the first of the Alliant prime task orders could roll out in the next few weeks, although probably nothing too large, Davies said. Lockheed’s Chesko also said some work may emerge by the beginning of September before the fiscal year ends. However, he said Lockheed wouldn’t want to guide them to Alliant so soon in case there’s a protest that delays the new vehicle.