Governmentwide acquisition contracts such as NASA’s Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement offer speed: quick access to a wide array of IT solutions, quick processing and quick turnaround.
The space agency launched SEWP 15 years ago as an engineering systems and workstation buy. Today, in its fourth generation, the GWAC gives agencies across government access to more than 1 million products, from handheld devices and off-the-shelf software to wireless access points and storage area networks.
Although the idea behind GWACs such as SEWP is to create buying vehicles that can ease and speed the purchase process and help avoid protests (in its history, NASA has canceled only one protested order out of the more than 150,000 placed), there remain smart ways to get the most from the program, says SEWP Program Manager Joanne R. Woytek, who has been a member of the team since the first contracts were awarded. “We’ve learned a few things” on the way to SEWP IV.
Know What the Vehicle Offers
Myriette Shillingford, former contract specialist for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, says she counted on SEWP contracts for major IT office purchases at NCIS, spending $100,000 to $300,000 annually. But for her, the trick when using GWACs is keeping up with each vehicle’s contracts and knowing what isn’t available or likely to become available. Obviously, crime scene investigation supplies for NCIS are not a category Shillingford would have acquired through SEWP, but she turned to it for many IT purchases.
SEWP is “the cheapest most of the time, and the fees are pretty low — reasonable,” says Shillingford, who recently moved to a new job at another federal agency. “99.9 percent of the GSA schedule vendors are also on SEWP, and there’s less processing to work the contracts as quickly and accurately as possible.”
Because products are added daily by the program office — known as the SEWP Bowl — at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, users can check online using the Manufacturer Lookup tool.
Learn How to Use Online Tools
“SEWP is a very iterative process,” says Woytek. “Agencies have lots of options to buy, and we have learned to meet their expectations.” Increasingly, one of those expectations is for online tools to help find answers without having to pick up the telephone. In addition to the Manufacturer Lookup, SEWP has a Product Verification tool that lets users refine searches across multiple contracts.
Together, the lookup and verification tools can give buyers information immediately about products that can be bought through the GWAC. The RFI/RFQ tool helps would-be buyers create requests for information or quotes and to place orders. It lets an agency find out the availability of listed products, ask for new products to be added, request details about new products — all while negotiating pricing with contract holders.
To help users with their SEWP buys and learn how to use the online tools, NASA offers an online training video and provides free agency-specific training, too. But training can also be handled informally at trade shows and events.
Compare and Contrast Pricing: Need Versus Brand
Contract Specialist Justin C. Dewitt at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center routinely sets up purchases through SEWP that range from $500 to $3 million for buyers inside the space agency. “I buy mostly IT hardware — servers, racks — and some IT software,” he says. “Usually the customer has looked at SEWP first and already knows what detail to give to the contracting specialist, so we get the end products quickly.”
SEWP revenue for 2007–2008
The SEWP program suggests that buyers rely more on generic specifications than brand names so that their requests for information will return a broader range of options. But if there is a brand-name need, an agency can include a justification in its request for quotes and then submit it to all four of the SEWP contract groups.
“If the [buying organization] gives us the part numbers and recommended vendors, we can create a request for quotations within the system — for final quotes or market research quotes — and have results in three business days. Then we can make an award immediately,” Dewitt says.
If You Can’t Find It, Ask
If a buyer wants a specific product and can’t find it on SEWP, it’s still possible to use the vehicle, say Shillingford and Dewitt. Because NASA allows daily technology refreshments to the contracts, an agency can include a request in an RFI or RFQ asking if a product is going to be available or if the vendor will add it upon request.
“If the item is available only from a specific vendor or not at the lowest price, for example, we require additional documentation,” adds Dewitt.
Buyers tempted to do it themselves in bits and pieces from other GWACs, in-house contracts and schedule contracts sometimes discover that SEWP “gives them more than they can get on their own — more control, more reports, and better pricing and tracking,” Woytek says.
When Buying in Bulk, Check for Special Pricing
Vajira Ranaviraja, a senior analyst for market research firm Input, says SEWP IV is successful and “shows underlying growth away from GSA schedule contractors.” He echoes Shillingford’s comments, noting that “agencies are migrating toward their own specific kinds of governmentwide contracts.” For instance, he points out that Defense Department agencies and the Veterans Affairs Department tend to use really big vehicles, and both have special buying arrangements with SEWP.
For VA, SEWP is a preferred source, and users have their own tracking identification tool. And DOD has established a memorandum of agreement with NASA to speed its purchases. But any federal buyer can also take advantage of possible additional savings through SEWP when buying in large quantities. The agency publishes the maximum price for a product, but a contract holder can charge a lower price on a per-order basis, and agencies can seek specially negotiated prices for large purchases with SEWP vendors.
A chief advantage of SEWP in the current economy, Ranaviraja says, is price: “SEWP pricing is cheaper than schedule. People seem to trust it in this fourth iteration. There are no additional prime contractors [SEWP has 38], but there are more subcontractors.”