New NASA tech contracts are a boon for small firms

Small and veteran-owned businesses were some of the big winners Thursday as NASA awarded 45 governmentwide information technology contracts to 37 prime vendors.

The fourth set of indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts under the Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (SEWP) vehicle went to 23 small businesses, six of which are owned by service disabled veterans. Comparatively, of the 16 companies awarded contracts through the 2002 SEWP III awards, eight were small businesses and two were owned by veterans, none of which were service disabled.

The diversity of SEWP IV contractors reflects a governmentwide initiative to bring more small and disadvantaged business into the federal arena, according to Joanne Woytek, program manager for the NASA contracts.

"It says more about where procurement is heading," Woytek said. "It's about more competition and more choices."

The fixed-price contracts, which run for seven years, offer a wide range of advanced technology to federal agencies, including state-of-the-art computer systems and servers, network equipment and storage devices. Agencies can order anywhere between $2,500 and $5.6 billion worth of products and services per contract.

For some small, locally based IT firms, the award spells the culmination of years of planning and market research.

The McLean, Va.-based immixGroup, which has about 85 workers, is already on the General Services Administration's multiple awards schedule but had yet to expand its portfolio as a SEWP contractor. The firm invested more than $100,000 for the opportunity to compete for the SEWP awards -- a venture that does not provide for any guaranteed revenue.

Despite the uncertainty, Steve Charles, the company's co-founder and executive vice president, said the contract was a "must win. Some companies prefer to use the [GSA] schedules, others prefer using an IDIQ." Now, he said, immixGroup has both sides covered.

Contractors say that SEWP can be preferable to the GSA vehicle or other governmentwide acquisition contracts because of its cheaper fee structure. NASA is charging a base service fee of 0.6 percent - down slightly from the SEWP III fee - and imposes a cap of $18,000 in fees on orders in excess of $3 million. GSA charges users a fee of 0.75 percent.

Last year, agencies purchased roughly $750 million in goods and services through SEWP. Woytek said she expects that figure to remain steady through the new contracts.

Among the larger and better known firms that NASA selected to compete for the billions in IT business under SEWP IV are IBM, Dell, Best Buy, CDW and Hewlett-Packard. Many of those participated in previous SEWP awards.

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