Tech contractors urge NIH to answer their questions about $50B CIO-SP4 contract

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The Professional Services Council has urged the National Institutes of Health to explain its treatment of tech industry questions about the request for proposals (RFP) issued for a long-awaited, $50 billion health IT contract.

In a letter of complaint sent Monday, PSC queried the agency’s decision to modify and consolidate industry questions before responding to them in RFP amendments. The advocacy group described NIH’s response as inequitable and confusing.

The recently-launched Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners 4 (CIO-SP4) contract, which has a higher funding ceiling than the prior CIO-SP3 contract vehicle, is managed by NIH.

NITAAC already had to re-compete the best-in-class, governmentwide acquisition contract, introduced back in March 2020 so NIH institutes and centers, the Department of Health and Human Services, and other agencies could purchase IT for biomedical research, software development, cloud services and cybersecurity. Now its new RFP and subsequent amendments are creating “more anxiety and concern” for contractors as they attempt to form teams to make bids on CIO-SP4, according to PSC.

“Unfortunately, there were many surprises in the final RFP released on May 25,” PSC said in the letter. “In the month since that release, amendments containing imprecise and at times inconsistent language have only contributed to further confusion among interested offerers, forcing them either to consider alternative strategies within the severely compressed timeframe for response or to abandon their pursuit of the CIO-SP4 opportunity altogether.”

PSC requested NITAAC list all of industry’s original questions concerning bid evaluation and submission requirements with its answers.

The advocacy group further asked that NITAAC extend the RFP response deadline to July 30, 2021, at the earliest and set its window for contractor past performance information and project descriptions to 36 months prior to the RFP’s release, rather than yet another due date — a moving target creating more work for contractors.

NITAAC’s third amendment issued June 22 only extended the response deadline 10 days to July 8, and the fourth amendment issued June 24 didn’t come with any extension. The July 8 deadline is “inadequate” for many potential offerers because NITAAC updated its past performance questionnaire, and it could take contractors up to 30 days to get approval from other agencies to share the required information, according to PSC.

NITAAC also removed a ban on using first-tier contractor past performance, which could affect teaming and joint venture arrangements that take time to negotiate and finalize.

PSC expressed additional concerns about the ISO 20000 “Go/No-Go” requirement and the lack of an attachment or certification document supporting it, as well as requiring development of up to 39 separate project descriptions — which other agencies will likely need to approve. Contractors also worried about the lack of guidance on required documentation for corporate experience.

NIH didn’t respond to a request for comment on PSC’s letter and a new extension by publication time, but the advocacy group is prepared for a drawn-out process.

“[A]ny additional explanations, clarifications, or corrections that NITAAC sees fit to provide in response to this letter and any other similar letters would seem to require future amendments,” PSC said. “That process, too, will take time, if it is to lead to a successful acquisition outcome.”

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Acquisition, Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners 4 (CIO-SP4), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), governmentwide acquisition contract (GWAC), information technology, National Institutes of Health (NIH), Professional Services Council
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