By Red Team’s Jeff Shen

This article was featured in the recent FedHealthIT Winter 2020 Magazine.

By the time you read this article, one or more of these contract updates will have occurred:

  1. The VA T4NG SDVOSB On-Ramp RFP will be live or about to be released.
  2. GSA 8(a) STARS III will have had several updates with a soon to be released RFP.
  3. GSA Alliant 2 Small Business will l have already been submitted or the RFP just recently released.
  4. NITAAC will have provided updates around the CIOSP3 Small Business On-Ramp awards and we will receive some updates around CIO-SP4 acquisition strategy and timing.
  5. GSA will have debuted its Consolidated Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) Solicitation on October 1 and received a few Schedule submissions.

All of these changes and updates make it hard to keep up. Many companies believe they must get on every vehicle or be shut out of relevant business. Bidding on contract vehicle procurements, with no promise of actual work, takes as much effort and cost as many single-award contracts, which create actual revenue.

To make matters more difficult, OMB has designated contracts into various tiers to align with Spend Under Management (SUM) and Category Management principles.

Essentially, this means that GWACs such as NIH CIO-SP3 Unrestricted and NIH CIO-SP3 Small Business (SB), GSA Alliant 2 and Alliant 2 SB, VETS 2, and 8(a) STARS III are recommended as the Tier Three, Best-in-Class Solutions for IT services. Should you be worried if you don’t have them or are not eligible to win them? Fortunately, the answer is no! Companies need to understand which agencies prefer which vehicles.

Here are straightforward recommendations to help you decide what to pursue, how to market, and how to stay on top of the never-ending list of available vehicles.

GWACs

The three upcoming GWACs to consider include GSA Alliant 2 SB, GSA 8(a) STARS III, and NIH CIO-SP4. Of the three, the immediate “must pursue” is CIO-SP4. There is not much available now on how NITAAC will compete this, but know this is the top vehicle to have for pursuing Federal health IT services business. While agency IDIQs such as VA T4NG and CMS SPARC draw attention, CIO-SP3 is still one of HHS’s primary vehicles. In fact, HHS awards over $1B per year off of CIO-SP3 Unrestricted and CIO-SP3 SB each, which is more than the next four agencies combined (including DoD!). DHA is also a large user of CIOSP3.

Additionally, having this GWAC will allow you to expand services into other agencies since CIO-SP3 is considered one of OMB’s Tier Three Best in- Class contracts.

For GSA 8(a) STARS III, if you are an 8(a) and have IT services past performance, you should consider pursuing this. We recommend that 8(a) and non- 8(a) companies find a way to compete as an 8(a) Prime, an 8(a) subcontractor, or as a mentor company through the SBA 8(a) Business Development (BD) Program. One thing to note: On 8(a) STARS Federal health agencies currently do not prioritize this as one of their go-to contracts. According to Deltek GovWin, CMS and FDA are ranked 13 and 15 out of 20, and the cumulative value of dollars allocated amounts to roughly $90M a year. However, since OMB has recently designated this contract as a Tier Three Best-in-Class contract, we expect to see an uptick in its usage.

For GSA Alliant 2 SB, if you were part of the original pool of submitters, I am certain you are hoping you make the top 120 list of winners. However, if you are a Federal health IT firm, don’t fret too much about this ranking. According to Deltek GovWin, of the top 20 Federal agencies that have used Alliant UNR/Alliant SB/Alliant 2 UNR the only Federal health agency on the list is CMS. As those who have competed on CMS contracts off of Alliant know, this consists of fewer, higher dollar programs. While Alliant 2 SB will certainly be a nice-to-have contract vehicle, don’t be overly concerned if you are primarily a Federal health IT services company. If your focus is growth in other non-health agencies (especially GSA, DoD, or DHS), then this is your contract vehicle of choice. Given the choice to pick two IT services contracts, I would pick CIO-SP4 and GSA Schedule – more on that later.

Agency Level IDIQs

The one key Federal health IDIQ contract that will be competed in early 2020 will be the VA T4NG On-Ramp. The limitations here for most companies include:

  • You must be a CVE-certified SDVOSB (no large businesses).
  • There will only be seven (7) Prime spots awarded.
  • Joint ventures must be under the SBA ASMPP and VIP CVEverified.
  • You need extensive knowledge and experience with the VA.

If your key market is IT services in the VA, then this is your key contract as an OMB rated Tier 2, Multi-Agency Solution. Based on past success lots of hungry SDVOSBs are vying for this vehicle. Several current incumbents have won well over $250M in awards and have grown more quickly over the last 4-5 years than some companies grow in 20-30 years. The growth and excitement is real. What is not as real is your likelihood to replicate that kind of success given that you need to be one of the seven winners and that you need to displace well entrenched incumbents that have been supporting VA OIT for years. Even if some of the SDVOSBs have to recertify their size status, don’t think they haven’t lined up their backup plan to re-win work. However, there is light at the end of the tunnel…

GSA Schedule (and the GSA Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) Solicitation)

…And that comes in the form of the GSA Schedule. According to Deltek, of the top 20 Federal agencies using Schedule 70, five come from health agencies amounting to almost $2B in FY18 (VA, CMS, NIH, FDA, and DHA). One of GSA’s goals is to consolidate the Schedule from 24 Schedule programs into a single consolidated schedule for products, services, and solutions to improve customer services and make it easier for Government to use the Schedule. This effort includes implementing 12 large categories and 86 subcategories, along with approximately 300 consolidated Special Item Numbers (SINs).

There is already significant value in using Schedules over other contracting vehicles to compete requirements. Three of these benefits include:

  1. More flexible teaming opportunities through the use of FSS CTAs.
  2. Conducting competitions in the form of BPAs for specific, repetitive services.
  3. Access to nearly 5,000 vendors with an increased chance of greater competition and more proposal responses for each RFQ.

The Schedule 70 Health IT Services SIN (132 56 or 54151HEAL) is also proving a must-have arrow in the quiver. It includes a wide range of Health IT services such as connected health, electronic health records, health information exchanges, health analytics, personal health information management, innovative Health IT solutions, health informatics, emerging Health IT research, and other Health IT services. With only 439 contractors holding this SIN, it provides an advantage in shaping agency acquisition strategy.

Contractors need to be knowledgeable in these benefits and be able to communicate them clearly, in an effort to steer customers to use the Schedule. With the proliferation of IDIQs in the market, contractors need to be ready to communicate the value of GSA Schedule vs CMS SPARC IDIQ, VA T4NG IDIQ, NIH CIO-SP3 GWAC, GSA Alliant 2 GWAC, and the list goes on. We have already seen an increase in the use of GSA Schedules to compete requirements due to inked strategic agreements and Best-in- Class designation, and the hope is that the Consolidated Schedule will increase the likelihood of agencies using the contract.

Final Recommendations

There is unprecedented activity on some of the largest IT IDIQs and GWACs in a condensed period of time. It is hard enough to win actual funded work – setting aside time to actually track and monitor these contracting vehicles is darn near impossible! Since NIH CIO-SP4 is the key contract that many contractors are targeting, I have some advice:

Start providing feedback now on re-compete considerations (which is expected to take 24 months from Solicitation to potential Award). We here at Red Team have lots of ideas, but we encourage companies to provide NITAAC with recommendations they feel will streamline the proposal and evaluation process (thus providing a benefit to NITAAC) and increase their chances of winning. In the meantime, get up to speed on the options and benefits of using a single GSA Multiple Award Schedule (and registered SINs) versus other competing IDIQs – this will help position your company for future growth in Federal health.

ABOUT JEFFREY SHEN

Jeffrey Shen is President at Red Team Consulting, bringing more than 20 years of proven leadership and expertise in Federal contracting, corporate strategy, and business development. He has consulted to the U.S. Federal Government and Fortune 500 companies worldwide.

Red Team Consulting, LLC (Red Team) is one of the premier providers of proposal development consulting, capture management, pricing strategy, and training services in support of Government contractors. Red Team’s mission is simple – help our clients grow their business. Visit Red Team on the web at www.redteamconsulting.com.

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