While many federal agencies continue to struggle with modernizing their IT environments, the Department of Health and Human Services recently consolidated 11 contracts covering its sprawling tech and telecommunications needs into a single $2.5 billion award.
Additionally, the department is only the second large agency, behind the Social Security Administration, to complete the procurement portion of its EIS transition, and its consolidated approach could serve as a model for laggards.
“At a lot of agencies, what you’re seeing is separate contracts where they’ll set up a task order and then they’ll do another task order and another task order,” Andrea Cohen, civilian vice president at Verizon, told FedScoop. “Honestly what HHS did, while very complex, is incredibly efficient and cost-effective.”
HHS will see an estimated $700 million in savings by taking advantage of scale and interactions between data and voice, which is the “best way” for agencies to approach EIS, Cohen said.
EIS is the $50 billion governmentwide contract agencies must use to modernize their IT and telecom services by Sept. 30, 2022. But only six of 24 Chief Financial Officers Act agencies were more than 50% of the way toward transitioning off the preceding Networx contract as of Aug. 5, according to the most recent Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act scorecard.
During the preceding transition to Networx, HHS set the pace for agency success — it was the first to make an award on the contract and had the overall fastest transition onto the program. Now, its continued efficiency with EIS is a testament to its contracting arm — “one of the best” in government, Cohen said.
“Starting with ReImagine HHS’s Buy Smarter initiative in 2017, we began identifying ways to consolidate contracts and leverage our buying power, in line with the President’s Management Agenda,” Eric Hargan, deputy secretary of HHS, said in a statement.
The acquisition reform team met with HHS leadership and technical leads from the department’s divisions and decided in 2019 to merge the legacy Networx, Washington Interagency Telecommunications System and Local Service Agreements contracts into the EIS contract. A new project management office was created within the Assistant Secretary for Administration, and more than a dozen market research meetings were held between HHS divisions and industry to detail the department’s needs and solicit feedback.
HHS has already activated several of the EIS contract’s options, even before the official start of its transition Thursday, to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Department systems fended off “sustained cyberattacks” at the pandemic’s outset, but now HHS is using the EIS contract to move to more secure systems, Hargan wrote in a blog.
The department also has the ability to order the Managed Trusted Internet Protocol Service (MTIPS) under EIS.
“MTIPS heightens the security framework, adopts new security technologies, and protects HHS from ever-increasing cyberthreats during the pandemic and beyond,” said an HHS spokesperson. “During the pandemic, the chief information officer functions of the agency, staff divisions, and operating divisions coordinated to improve agency firewalls, invest in greater Virtual Private Network capabilities and add additional circuit capacity to ensure the HHS workforce had connectivity and could telework.”
HHS also used EIS to meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s COVID-19 disease surveillance and data tracking needs, expanding the agency’s data network, Cohen said.
Verizon is managing telecom work, including professional services, on the National Institutes of Health campus, and for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, it is adding chatbots and contact centers that should be live ahead of Medicare open enrollment.
Acquisitions of the latest technology, like 5G and Voice over Internet Protocol phones, will also be completed faster through EIS, Hargan wrote.
While the Department of Defense is breaking EIS up into 60 or 70 procurements, and the Department of Homeland Security is taking a patchwork approach as well, most civilian agencies prefer bigger contracts, when possible. Still, consolidated contracts like HHS’s are exceedingly rare, Cohen said.
Few other agencies are near to finishing the procurement portion of EIS and might be wise to follow HHS’s lead. The Department of the Interior‘s voice deal is still out, and the Department of Justice is finished save for the FBI. Some smaller agencies might be close to contracts.
“But even those are behind in terms of getting them done quickly,” Cohen said. “Each agency has its own timeline. I think the General Services Administration is kind of prodding them along.”