The initial shock of the COVID outbreak has passed, and now both the public and private sectors are getting down to the business of evaluating how things will function in the new, post-pandemic, normal. While “IT Modernization” has been a focus area in the public sector for the past several years, the pandemic forced the federal government to acknowledge updates are not happening fast enough. For the first time in modern history, the challenges of operating remotely on a mass level have pushed agencies to pursue technology solutions at a vastly accelerated rate.
Last month, we talked about how the CARES Act set aside emergency funding for mission-critical technology acquisitions. However, agencies must still clear the hurdle of the sometimes murky, and very often lengthy, federal acquisition process. Fortunately, long before the world had heard the phrase “COVID-19,” the GSA was contemplating ways to streamline and simplify this process for federal technology solutions.
On June 5, 2019, GSA, NASA, and DOD issued an amendment to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) that increased the threshold for simplified acquisitions on GSA’s IT Schedule 70 from $150,000 to $250,000. When choosing a vendor in a simplified acquisition procurement, agencies get to cut through much of the red tape that bogs down the process including:
- Providing advance notice and an opportunity to respond to all contractors
- Developing formal evaluation plans
- Establishing a competitive range
- Assembling source selection committees
- Scoring offers
- Offering justification for selected procurement methodologies
Instead, the contracting officer can swiftly and independently contract for mission-critical technology and services — selecting contractors based on valued relationships or key features, rather than their ability to comply with a scoring rubric on an RFP or offer the cheapest option.
While this amendment clears the way for rapidly addressing smaller scale technology needs, as the crisis has highlighted, the federal government is facing much larger scale modernization problems. When President Trump declared a national emergency on March 13th, the emergency acquisitions exemptions of the FAR came into effect, empowering agencies to bypass the $250,000 simplified acquisition threshold and competition requirements to make even large-scale technology procurements quickly.
In early May, HHS leveraged its CARES Act supplemental funding and cited these FAR exemptions to make a $24.9 million J&A award to a vendor without competition. The justification states that “[c]ompeting requirements…would result in unacceptable time delays in fulfilling the agency’s urgent needs in addressing a global pandemic and national public health emergency.” The acquisition was for cloud implementation and data services that the agency deemed mission essential for collaborative research and information sharing.
So while COVID-19 has deeply and uniquely challenged our country, the crisis has also opened the door for federal agencies to leverage a new funding pool and simplified procurement process to make firm strides forward in the race for IT modernization in the public sector. Agencies are now empowered to move faster than ever when selecting and purchasing the tools they need for more efficient collaboration and data management.
In a world where full onsite operations may be becoming increasingly obsolete, Everlaw is committed to supporting federal agencies as they seek out modern technology solutions for litigation, investigations, FOIA workflows, regulatory updates, and more. Our team of dedicated federal subject matter experts can work with agency stakeholders to find impactful solutions that balance technical requirements with budgetary constraints and help shape the procurement process for optimal efficiency.
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