NITAAC General News
Five Key Tips for Stress-Free Buying at Year-End
By Victor E. Powers, Director for the Division of Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center in the Office of Administration, Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health
Picture yourself in a wooded glen fishing beside a gently rippling brook. Or maybe your idea of relaxing is sitting under an umbrella and listening to the ocean waves soothe your soul. While many business professionals are lounging at the beach, or relaxing by that mountain stream, federal government acquisition professionals are preparing for the busiest time of their year: the end-of-fiscal year buying frenzy. The summer season is already here, and it is important to plan ahead so we acquisition professionals, too, can enjoy these lazy, hazy days of summer.
Our goal is to remind you of the tools that will help you plan for and negotiate the tumultuous days ahead. We offer five key tips for smooth government Information Technology (IT) acquisition. We hope these tips will ease your agency acquisitions and help ensure that when you buy on behalf of your agency, you buy with confidence.
The flurry of federal government year-end ordering doesn't have to be stress-filled. But it is important for us to realize the critical components of the season in order to negotiate it smoothly. This is a vital time for our agencies to finalize mission-critical IT purchases before time and appropriated funds expire. There is no extension to the end of the fiscal year. It ends September 30th at midnight. Between now and then, time is at a premium.
Government contracting staff face a number of challenges in this condensed period of acquisitions. We must be sure that we are securing the best value for our government agency. We must meet ever growing and more complicated mandates and requirements. And, we must efficiently and effectively manage the heavy acquisition workloads dictated by last minute IT requirements.
We here at the National Institute of Health (NIH) Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) have an award-winning history of success in helping agency acquisition professionals fulfill their IT needs in a fast, flexible, and comprehensive manner. NITAAC facilitates the acquisition of IT products and services for federal agencies and has been doing so since its initiation in 1996. NITAAC was granted its Executive Agent designation in 2000, and maintains it with distinction. The Executive Agent designation allows NITAAC to operate its Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) to help NIH, DHHS components, and other federal government agencies more effectively meet IT acquisition requirements. The Program also offers customer agencies the confidence that NITAAC has met stringent reporting and management control requirements. The NITAAC Program is a $12 billion program, offering three GWACs: Chief Information Officer - Solutions and Partners 2 Innovations (CIO-SP2i); Image World 2 New Dimensions (IW2nd); and Electronic Commodities Store (ECS III).
As successful acquisition professionals, we have worked to devise strategies to confront the challenges presented by the year-end buying crunch. What follows are NITAAC's five tips to ensure that your agency's IT needs are met as you navigate your way through this busy time of year.
Top Five Tips
1. Communicate Early and Often.
Engage all affected personnel early and often. Talk to the program managers you support. Remind them about the need to finalize all FY 2006 purchases by September 30th.
IT requirements will fall into two categories: planned and unplanned. In either case, program officials may not have communicated their need for upcoming IT requirements with you.
Leadership can be a valuable resource at this time. Ask them to communicate to their peers. Ask them to raise the issue at staff meetings or volunteer to give a 30 second update. Ask your leadership to send e-mails to your program managers. Leadership can get your managers to address a subject of importance.
Surprises are inevitable, but with repeated communication in various forms, keeping your internal customers up-to-date on key issues and deadlines will help streamline the process.
2. Engage in Acquisition Planning
Prepare for the unexpected. You know that the end of the year will bring last minute purchases. September 30th will be busy but can also be manageable. Acquisition planning can help you strategize how to manage the known workload. You can also build in time and resources for that unexpected necessity by developing a written acquisition plan. Since federal mandates will guide many of your deadlines, include a calendar with the requisite dates. Share the plan and calendar with your program managers to define priorities and requirements. Help them work within the parameters of the mandates. Help the program managers to establish priorities and provide the technical specifications you will need to complete the mission-critical acquisitions.
Prepare a decision matrix. There are many acquisition vehicles already in place that can be used to streamline your acquisition. Include contact information in the matrix, as well as delivery estimates and documentation needed for the acquisition.
3. Review Funding
In the rush to finalize year-end buying requirements, it is important to keep funding availability and regulatory requirements in focus. Contracting officers and administrative officers should work together with program officials to ensure that adequate funding is available to complete the purchase of IT requirements. With a few exceptions, appropriated funds may only be used to purchase IT products and services in the fiscal year for which they were appropriated. Obligation of all funds requires bona fide need. "Parking" money or ordering items when your agency is not ready to take delivery is not permitted.
4. Know Your Options
Your customers' IT requirements will not fall into a "one-size-fits-all" category. There are more contracting vehicles available than ever. You need to know the different types of vehicles, their strengths and challenges, and how each can work to your advantage. Prepare a matrix of the types of contracting vehicles. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Use the matrix to determine which acquisitions can be streamlined by using vehicles that already exist to help you meet your requirements.
With the advent of new contract vehicles, acquisition personnel are no longer subjected to an 18 month process to award a contract for an IT purchase. Streamlined contracting vehicles have replaced the cumbersome process previously seen as the norm.
Some of the contract vehicles that can streamline your ordering process are GWACs, Multi-Agency Contracts (MACs), Enterprise-wide contracts, and Schedules. Your matrix may help answer the question of which vehicle is the right one to meet the IT requirement in front of you.
The attributes of a GWAC are many. Because the vendors are already pre-qualified, task orders and delivery orders cannot be protested. Although a GWAC may be housed in and managed by an agency outside your organization, they can be used throughout the federal government by any agency whose acquisition fits the specifications of the contract.
GWACs exist throughout Government. For example, NITAAC manages three, CIO SP2i, IW2nd, and ECS III. Some offered by other agencies include the General Services Administration's Millennia and Millennia Lite; the Department of Commerce's COMMITS contract; and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's SEWP III. The Office of Management and Budget designated the NITAAC GWACs with Executive Agent status for governmentwide acquisition of IT, which allows for providing IT products and services to all government agencies.
Depending on the stipulations of the contract, GWACs can be used for task or delivery orders. Extra documentation for a Determination and Finding (D&F) as required in the Economy Act does not apply to GWACs.
MACs are managed by one agency for use throughout the federal government. Task and delivery orders require competition. The IT MACs are also governed by the Clinger-Cohen Act. Acquisitions must include a D&F that confirms that the interagency acquisition is in the best interest of the government and cannot be obtained as conveniently or economically through a private acquisition, as required by the Economy Act.
Schedules are indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) vehicles established by GSA to assist the federal government purchaser. As with other vehicles, an acquisition requires competition.
5. Work Smarter, Not Harder
Determine what the priority is for each acquisition.
> Is it delivery time?
> Is it customer service to assist you with a complicated Request for Quote (RFQ)?
> Do you plan to use this acquisition to meet small business goals?
> Does Fair Opportunity to be Considered figure highly into the decision?
> Can you obtain immediate sales and discounts?
> Do you want this acquisition to focus on Performance-Based Service Contracting?
> How important is it to use electronic ordering as part of your acquisition process?
In our "on-time-delivery" world, getting IT now to fulfill your agency's mission is often the priority. If this is your priority, choose a vehicle that can reduce time for your delivery order by having precompeted vendors and a history of delivering in under a week.
Can you do it yourself or is the statement of work outside your expertise? Sometimes customer service and working with knowledgeable professionals who are familiar with the IT and services for an enterprise-wide or complex solution is your most pressing need. There are acquisition professionals who specialize in IT solutions, and access to them is often just a phone call away.
Use the expertise of these business and task order specialists to both assure an accurate and complete acquisition, and to reduce time and stress.
Has your agency satisfied its small business commitments and requirements? There are ways to meet Fair Opportunity to be Considered rules and automatically include small businesses in the process. Contracts that offer discounts for small business vendors are available.
Time and money are always high priorities. Making a best-value decision is always important. Take advantage of discounts and spot pricing. Your decision matrix can help you identify a vehicle that provides best value. Your acquisition can be accomplished by simultaneously sending one RFQ to multiple vendors and letting the vendors respond through a centralized system.
Time is money. Streamlined acquisitions that can be accomplished electronically meet the goal of saving time, which results in cost savings. Include electronic ordering as a choice when possible. By selecting the right contracting vehicle that meets your requirements' priorities, you will reduce your time and effort significantly.
You can take that restorative vacation break on the beach, or enjoy the peace of the mountains, confident that your upcoming acquisitions will be achieved without the stress that can sometimes surround this frenzied season.
The year-end buying season might be hectic, but it also offers you an opportunity to excel on behalf of your Government customer, vital programs, and the taxpayer. We hope that by following these five tips, your acquisition season will be under control.
For more information on NITAAC or for a matrix of its award-winning GWACs, please visit our website at http://nitaac.nih.gov or call us at (888) 773-6542.
NITAAC, a multi-billion dollar program, provides NIH Institutes and Centers, and other federal government agencies with quality Information Technology products, services, and solutions.