With most of the 2022 calendar year in the books and the start of the Government fiscal year, it is a good time to review and reflect on the 2022 procurement activity relevant to the major procurement programs across the General Services Administration (GSA) and specific agencies. Three specific procurement come to mind when accounting for 2022 activity: CIO-SP4, DHS FirstSource III and GSA Polaris. Whether intentional or not, all three programs seemed to have attributes and/or outcomes that disappointed large swaths of the bidding community. It is our interpretation that these events have had a chilling effect on small business and their willingness to undergo other large-scale procurements as we move into the 2023 calendar year.

For context, RWCO has focused on four broad-scale programs that serve as the crux of 2023 Federal acquisition activity: GSA Alliant 3, GSA Oasis+, NASA SEWP, and DLA JETS 2.0. The specifics of each program, for reference:

ProgramTiming of RFPAnticipated # of AwardsVeiling Value
GSA Alliant 3*January/February 202340-50$75B [$15B small business]
GSA OASIS+December 2022/January 2023Unlimited$60B
NASA SEWPMay/June 2023200-300$20B
DLA JETS 2.0March/April 2023125-150 **$6B

* The Alliant 3 Draft RFP will remain open for comments, questions, and feedback through January 6, 2023. 
** Based on historical average.

Self-Scoring Worksheets

After the October (2022) rollout of the National Institutes of Health, NIH Information Technology Acquisition and Assessment Center (NITAAC) CIO-SP4 unsuccessful offeror notices, in which firms that obtained up to 97% of the total points allotted for the procurement were informed they lacked enough points to be considered for an award, the federal contracting community – especially small business – expressed considerable concerns over the viability of competing within the context of “Self-Scoring” procurements.

In the case of CIO-SP4, NITAAC indicated that the competition is “relatively relaxed” for small businesses. This statement was released in a March 27, 2020 draft solicitation. In doing so, NITAAC indicated that NITAAC might award between 75-100 offerors in the general category and reserved 200-300 for small business awards. If one simply applies the standard that 97% of total point value was the cut line, NITAAC is – in essence – suggesting that small businesses in the amount of 200-300 organizations, garnered more than 97% of the point value in the self-scoring process.

It is anticipated that the GSA OASIS+ and Alliant 3 will follow a self-scoring process. Alliant 3 will likely look and feel similar to the Alliant 2 procurement, including the point-scoring methodology for evaluation.  In addition to prior evaluation criteria such as relevant project experience, system approvals, and industry certifications, the government is expected to emphasize the importance of supply chain risk management (SCRM) as it has in GSA Polaris.

Low Confidence Ratings

As a second data point, a vast majority of small businesses involved in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) FirstSource III, a contract-vehicle specific to Value Added Resellers of technology hardware and software, received letters of “Low Confidence.”  Many of those firms had actually partnered with large VARs in the form of Joint Ventures and thus had millions of dollars of VAR past performance capability. Nonetheless, the Government seemed to provide a blanket “Low Confidence” rating that discouraged most businesses from moving forward for fear that they would be wasting their time and resources in responding further.  

When firms opt to withdraw from a procurement, the ability of those firms to protest the award – once an award is finally made – is nullified. In addition, because the opt-out takes place prior to any award determination, the debrief process is rendered moot.

In one case example, RWCO is aware of a large, global VAR that partnered – via an unpopulated Joint Venture with a small business that also serves as the large firm’s protégé firm under the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Mentor/Protégé program – with an 8(a) small business. This large partner had more than $1B in annual VAR sales and counted DHS among its federal customers.  As anecdotal as the evidence may be, providing a “low confidence” rating to a JV of this nature raises questions about the attributes needed to gain a “high confidence” rating from DHS.

Ambiguity and the Application of Rules

As a third data point, the Polaris program, which recently wrapped up the SDVOSB phase of the procurement, was mired in protests that delayed the Solicitation’s release for more than a year. Once on the street, the procurement met a series of pre-submission protests due to conflicting guidance of past performance evaluations (Joint Ventures and Mentor/Protégé (M/P) structures) compared to the SBA rules, which are written into law. While the conflict between GSA’s guidance and that of the SBA rules on Mentor/Protégé and Joint Venture eventually was resolved in favor of the SBA rules, the mere presence – initially – of the GSA’s intent to dilute the past performance impact (and value) of a Joint Venture or Mentor/Protégé demonstrates an intent to drastically reduce the number of bidders that meet the criteria for evaluation and award.

The Fallout

The resulting whiplash of contract ambiguity, variations of applied rules (and laws), and an overt desire to mitigate the features and competitive attributes of JV’s and M/P’s within small business procurements is having an adverse impact on the desire of small businesses to subject themselves to a competitive landscape that appears fluid and ripe with inconsistencies and anti-competitive requirements, especially when one considers that these Government Wide Acquisition Vehicles are of Indefinite Delivery and Indefinite Quality (IDIQ) and that contract performance takes place upon the award of competitively-let Task Orders.  

Looking Toward the Future

There has been a considerable amount of online and industry chatter on the next few broad-scale GWAC-IDIQs: GSA OASIS+, NASA SEWP, Alliant 3, and DLA JETS. These four (4) programs represent more than $161 Billion in estimated value.  In the specific case of GSA OASIS+, the government has signaled its intention to apply a self-scoring methodology that is similar in structure to that applied to both CIO-SP4 and Polaris. 

As a point of distinction, and perhaps as a note of encouragement, the GSA has indicated that the OASIS+ program will not have a hard cap on the number of awards and that multiple small business pools are defined to encourage small business participation. Firms interested in pursuing the upcoming GWAC-IDIQs should be mindful of the rules and criteria applied to past performance and scoring well in advance of RFP release so that ample time exists to address weaknesses in past performance and opportunities to garner additional points within the self-scoring process.  For NASA SEWP, bidders should plan on participating in the NASA SEWP’s Reverse Industry Day (RID) events as announced by NASA SEWP office of acquisition.

NASA SEWP is projected to have a cap on the number of awards in a manner similar to the award caps applied to the NIH’s CIO-SP4.   Like CIO-SP4, which stated a cap (small business) of between 200-300 awards, NASA SEWP VI will likely follow the award playbook of NASA SEWP V ($20B ceiling value), in which more than 200 contracts had been awarded to more than 140 prime vendors.

RWCO will issue supplemental bulletins on Alliant 3, NASA SEWP, and DLA JETS in the coming weeks. It is widely anticipated that OASIS+ will be the first of the major 2023 GWACS to hit the street (FY Q1/Q2 2023). Alliant 3 is also projected as a Q1/Q2 2023 release; GSA  recently increased its program ceiling for Alliant 2 from $50 billion to $75 billion, thereby mapping a transition to Alliant 3.

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