OPM ups award on benefits system to keep Web projects in tact

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The Office of Personnel Management has awarded more money to a contractor responsible for improving its governmentwide employee health benefits system. The move will make room in OPM’s budget for other pressing IT projects through the fiscal year, it said.

OPM has increased the ceiling on a Web support blanket purchase agreement with Research Management Consultants Inc. by $292,252. RMCI has been working with OPM since 2013 on a project to replace the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program FEHB2000 system with the sleeker Web-based Benefits Plus system, which “will eliminate
the need to input the same data in multiple systems, preventing keystroke errors and giving carriers
greater control over the accuracy of the data displayed on OPM’s website,” according to a memo on the system.

In addition to making it simpler to input health insurance data, the project will offer a new plan-comparison tool for federal employees, which “will make it easier to compare the cost of multiple plans,”

the justification for the noncompetitive award says.

Work on the project is scheduled to extend through 2017.

The need for more funding comes because of the “Self Plus One” regulation in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013. The regulation will allow federal workers to enroll to themselves and one eligible family member in the federal health insurance program. It will come to force January 2016, making it urgent that the Benefits Plus program reflects the new plan.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel of the Professional Service Council, told FedScoop it seems “without any intervening actions, OPM would have been able to execute that contract in that period of performance for the money that was originally put on the contract. But now because of these additional requirements and additional work that’s required … they need not more time, but more money.”

Making room for pressing projects

Without the cash infusion, OPM would have had to take funding from some of its other pending projects, according to the justification. It could also hinder the agency’s ability to “perform emergency security maintenance actions on the websites as the result of precautions against emerging digital vulnerabilities and treats,” the justification says.

In June, OPM announced two separate cyber breaches that together compromised the personal information of more than 22 million current and former federal employees. OPM said the added funding for the BPA and the emergency security actions weren’t related to the hacks.

“There’s current projects, as well as some as unidentified projects that will have to come into play,” Chvotkin said. “Now because of other work that has had to be done, the original [projects on the BPA] can’t be executed. They had to reallocate funds to meet this intervening set of requirements.”

The award mentioned several projects in jeopardy of failing without increased funding, including work on the OPM emergency notification system, phase two of Telework.gov, UnlockTalent.gov, a responsive Web design for the agency’s Innovation Lab and White House-guided HTTPS protocols. Likewise, OPM’s Web Services Support team anticipates the possible need of additional funding for future projects handed down from the OPM director or the White House.

While Chvotkin said occasionally limited-sources justification contracts are awarded, the language of this one concerned him. Despite saying that RMCI was a uniquely qualified vendor to continue its work, OPM said it did not conduct market research to determine that.

“I wonder how long OPM might be trapped into a continuity of sole source work,” which often raises red flags for IT projects that might be at risk of failing, he said.

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Agencies, Government IT News, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Procurement, Professional Services Council
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