GSA announced recently that they are incorporating a host of sustainable IT provisions into their major technology contracts. Everything from reducing climate change to the use of alternate energy sources to power federal IT systems is on the table. It’s good to want to protect the environment, but no one seems to be asking the critical question of “who pays?”. Will federal agencies be the ones that will pay extra for IT solutions that have a variety of sustainable features baked in? Policy makers cannot assume that the answer to this question is “yes” when looking at historical evidence. Agencies are traditionally slow to adopt new technologies, especially when they come with new costs. An additional fact now is that several federal agency budgets are anticipated to be tighter this year (see article above). Even in more “normal” times we’ve previously written about federal IT executives who have an “I just got a bargain” approach to IT acquisition. Similarly, topics like sustainability that get discussed in a vacuum can often lead to policies that create a host of unintended consequences. Ask Californians, for example, how well their alternate energy sources work for them in the summer and then consider whether it’s in the country’s best interest to have critical intelligence and other sensitive IT systems powered by them. Contractors run the risk of getting caught in the middle. GSA requires potentially expensive sustainability features. Customers either don’t want or can’t afford to have them. Open market acquisition ensues, driving up lead times and potentially costs. Providing sustainable IT solutions is a good goal. It must be properly evaluated and compared, though, to the other federal IT goals. All perceived “goods” are not created equally and its important to get this right in order for federal IT systems to operate properly in a time of heightened international tension. The ultimate answer is, of course, that the taxpayers pay, but you already knew that.
While most of the action on the contractor vaccine mandate has been in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, the Administration also recently filed an appeal in the 9th Circuit appellate court over an Arizona district court judges ruling that issued a separate stay from enforcing the vaccine mandate. Major cases in two separate jurisdictions increase the chances that conflicting rulings will be issued, requiring the Supreme Court to step in. As discussed elsewhere, oral arguments were heard April 8th on the 11th Circuit case. While judges’ comments may not reflect how they will actually decide a case, many look to them in an effort to read the judicial tea leaves. The bottom line take-away is that the 11th Circuit may continue the stay, albeit on a 2-1 vote, meaning that the government would have to appeal to the Supreme Court for a resolution. The newer appeal in the 9th Circuit, however, may yield a different result. The 9th is traditionally known for being a fairly liberal court and, as such, may well side with the Administration on the contractor vaccine mandate issue. This creates a situation where two circuits issue conflicting rulings, increasing the chance that the Supreme Court would step in and resolve the matter once and for all. In the meantime, the nationwide stay on enforcing much of the mandate remains in place. This is important for contractors to know because there have been legal movements on the government employee mandate. There are reports of confusion as to whether those actions impact the contractor mandate. They do not. It is important that contractors watch this issue carefully. The timing of the cases sets up the possibility that, should a Supreme Court review be required, it would not happen until the fall of 2022.
Complacency can be part of both our government business lives and our lives overall. We move from one meeting to the next and then onto the next project. Routines at home provide comfort, even if they can get old after a while. Now is no time for complacency. It is definitely a time to get out of our routines and realize what challenges are facing us, not just as contractors, but as members of larger communities, families, and yes, even nations. We’re under threat abroad and at home. When a madman has access to nuclear weapons and there is no easy way to rein him or his country in, that’s a concern. When other countries, and even some in our own country, praise that madman, the concern comes closer. Open discussion about the use of “low level” nukes should shake most of us up enough to say, “Wait, what?” If national security doesn’t catch your attention, how about this?: Water levels are so low in the west that leaders are expecting unprecedented rolling blackouts this summer as states may literally have to choose between power and drinking water. Free speech is attacked from both the left and right. Attempts are well underway by seemingly popular national speakers to divide us along racial lines. If all of this isn’t enough to shake us out of our day-to-day routines and become active in restoring common sense and basic rights, what will? By the time actual attacks come and people have to move to seek water we will already be behind the curve. Benjamin Franklin famously replied to a lady of Philadelphia that we have “A republic if we can keep it”. Well, can we? Republics don’t exist in perpetuity without proper care. Just ask the Romans. It is definitely time to step back from the routine and ensure that we are each engaged in restoring our homes and nations to what they should be. Then, right after, we can do government procurement
Although the Senate has been working hard on various measures that would allocate more money for COVID-related spending, contractors shouldn’t get their hopes up too high. First, the original size of the initial Senate proposal was trimmed earlier this week to $10 billion. Next, a report came out saying that the majority of that money has already been obligated. Now, however, Senators can’t agree on what a new spending bill would like and, with a two-week recess pending, it seems more and more unlikely that any measure will make it through the Senate, let alone the House, for at least several more weeks. That doesn’t mean that the issue of new COVID money is dead, however. Congressional Democrats state that more spending is needed and are determined to make another run at the issue, perhaps actually increasing the dollar level now being discussed. In the meantime, contractors are better served by focusing on money that has already been appropriated and business that they are pursuing for the rest of the fiscal year. Congress may or may not get around to passing another COVID measure, but the net new money in it may be small and will likely be specifically targeted for unique needs. Most companies are better off focusing on what they already know. Expect substantial political wrangling from Congress as the mid-term elections in November draw closer. While contractors can’t ignore what might result from pre-election posturing, most of it will have little direct impact on government business. Keep an eye on Congress, but don’t let it distract from your focus on business.
GSA expects to reduce the cloud acquisition burdens of its customer agencies and lower provider administration costs through its new cloud BPA program, which has now been given the name “ASCEND”. GSA believes that the Schedules-based BPA approach will enable it to work closely with individual customers to tailor specific solutions more easily than they could do through a larger, stand-alone contract. “We’ve gone away from buying kind of single-cloud environments that are going to solve a particular pain point or business problem for the agencies, to now having to acquire multiple cloud service solutions that are working in an ecosystem together, along with the services that are needed to integrate them and make them, deploy them, secure them, monitor and manage them,” said FAS Commissioner Sonny Hashmi earlier this week in an article originally appearing on Federal News Network. The ASCEND BPA’s will be established against existing Multiple Award Schedule contracts, meaning that contractors that want to participate must have cloud solutions on their schedule contracts by the time the RFP is issued, or be able to partner with a company that does. ASCEND is still in the market research phase with both an upcoming industry date planned and a draft RFP. GSA previously sent out an RFI earlier this year that received strong contractor feedback, including comments from small businesses. The agency wants both customer and contractor input and appears to be providing time for each with no set acquisition timetable having been announced so far. Hashmi did admit that there already many existing contracts through which federal agencies can buy cloud services, but GSA believes that the flexible, yet multi-purpose, nature of ASCEND’s solutions will make it a popular cloud vehicle.