GSA fails in bid to take over NASA technology contract

Observers say NASA has been doing a good job of managing the contract vehicle, which offers agencies across government the opportunity to purchase specialized technology.

A governmentwide acquisition contract run by NASA will remain under the agency's control, despite a bid by the General Services Administration to take it over, the Office of Management and Budget announced Monday.

The Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement contract vehicle requires periodic recertification by OMB. GSA Administrator Lurita Doan has publicly fought since her appointment this summer to wrest the SEWP contract from NASA. But Paul Denett, head of OMB's procurement policy office, informed her during a Monday afternoon phone call that her campaign was unsuccessful.

There is a demonstrated need for SEWP in the federal market and "NASA is well-suited to serve as its executive agent," Denett said in a Dec. 18 memorandum to NASA Administrator Michael Griffin.

The first SEWP contracts -- which are for state-of-the-art computer system technologies, high-end scientific and engineering capabilities, peripherals and network equipment -- will expire in January. Another set expires in September 2007.

With OMB approval in hand, NASA now can award new contracts for a maximum five-year term and a collective ceiling of $6 billion.

"It's good for us to be able to move forward and not worry about that situation and have that designation," said Joanna Woytek, program manager for SEWP.

Doan said she was "disappointed," and reiterated her position that governmentwide acquisition contracts run by other agencies contribute to wasting taxpayer money. "We will continue to highlight ways to reduce the proliferation of GWACs," she said.

A government official who spoke on condition of anonymity said NASA made a compelling argument to keep the contract. SEWP is well-run, responsive to customers and offers more up-to-date technology than can necessarily be found at GSA, the official said. "There are all sorts of things that NASA figured out how to do that other people ought to figure out, including GSA," the official said.

Reaction within the information technology contractor community was positive. GSA functions well at procuring general technology, but not the mission-specific technology that NASA offers through SEWP, said Bob Guerra, a partner at Guerra Kiviat, a government IT market consulting firm. "GSA all along should have known that SEWP wasn't something they could just do."

Doan's argument that governmentwide procurement vehicles managed outside GSA undermine the government's spending power has some validity, said Frank Pugliese, a former GSA acquisition commissioner. But "picking which one you want to go after, that's another story," he said. Speaking about Doan, he said, "I don't fault her for being bold. GSA needed bold, that's for sure."

In addition to attempting to take over SEWP, sources said Doan has unsuccessfully tried for the Army Small Computer Program in Fort Monmouth, N.J.

Any argument that seeks to attack the legality of governmentwide acquisition contracts run by agencies outside GSA is faulty, said Steve Charles, executive vice president of immixGroup, a McLean, Va., consulting firm. Under the 1996 Clinger-Cohen Act, OMB has the power to designate any agency to run a governmentwide acquisition contract.

Doan "really needs to go back and double check the legal underpinning and the operational realities of what she says, because everybody I talk to in industry has said she's lost all credibility," Charles said.

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