Acquisition Trends for Federal Health Mission Agencies

Published: March 31, 2021

Federal Market AnalysisContracting TrendsCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicDEFENSEFDAGSAHHSHealth ITVA

Procurement shops at federal health agencies quickly pivoted to mass telework and accelerated delivery of goods and services to their federal clients while leaning on existing contracts and new contracting flexibilities to fulfill needs during the pandemic.

During AFCEA Bethesda’s Health IT Summit on Tuesday, a panel of federal acquisition experts from HHS, VA and DOD discussed how their organizations have addressed challenges and opportunities presented by the pandemic over the past year.

Many agencies leaned on Best in Class (BIC) contracts, GSA Multiple Award Schedules (MAS), and other Government-Wide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) to fulfill product and service needs during the pandemic, while also implementing procurement innovation techniques where appropriate.

Andrew Jernell, Director of the Division of Information Technology Acquisitions (DITA) at FDA, said that his agency leveraged existing contracts and expanded their scopes in order to rapidly deliver the technology needed to achieve 100% telework.

Roya Konzman, Acting Division Director for Solutions Development at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS), said that her organization adapted quickly because telework was already a part of their culture pre-COVID.  She said that her office quickly pivoted to assist federal clients in obtaining necessary hardware, software, network access, and security to equip them for mass telework.  

At VA, Chuck Ross, Director of Procurement Service at the VA Technology Acquisition Center (TAC), said that early in the pandemic his agency’s inability to use rated orders to procure items to enable doctors to telework and conduct telehealth was a challenge. Other agencies that could rate orders received a place in line before his organization.

Anita Allen, a Small Business Specialist at HHS Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, believes that HHS did a good job utilizing and advising small businesses on how they could help provide needed services and supplies to the federal government during the crisis.  Allen stated that an advantage to contracting with small businesses is that they are more agile and nimble, as opposed to larger businesses. In most cases, small businesses can easily make changes and adjustments.

According to Stacy Bostjanick, Acting Director of Supply Chain Risk Management (SCRM) at the DOD Office of Acquisition & Sustainment, they deployed supply chain illumination tools which helped flag potential contractors that didn’t have the capabilities they were touting. The illumination tools helped them eliminate bad actors in the supply chain.

Panelists also spoke about their use of Category Management principles, MAS contracts, and GWACs. Jernell said the FDA has leveraged BICs and category management over the last year, and the agency is moving to an enterprise solution perspective for contracting. FDA relies heavily on GSA contracts, STARS II, NASA SEWP, and the NITACC contracts.  

Ross at VA said that before the pandemic they were trying to eliminate their stockpiles by moving to just in time delivery.  They moved to using category management, strategic sourcing, and consolidating contracts and vendors to gain economies of scale.  However, during the pandemic there was a tradeoff. They discovered that there are advantages to having multiple suppliers. 

Allen said that different operating divisions within HHS have different contract preferences. FDA likes to go with BICs.  CMS looks for the best fit and uses BICs and MAS contracts, as well as their SPARC contract.  NIH uses their NITACC contracts or GSA contracts. 

Panelist also spoke about the increased use of Procurement Innovation Lab techniques, such as using oral presentations and confidence ratings in the evaluation process. Jernell at FDA said a recent $10M award for the Center for Tobacco only took four weeks versus four months using these techniques and no protests were filed.

Agency procurement and contracting offices have also taken advantage of Video Tele-Conferencing (VTC) tools during the pandemic.  GSA has used these tools to help conduct market research to find companies with particular capabilities or products. The HHS OSDBU is conducting its next small business event virtually at the end of June. CDC and CMS have also had virtual industry days. The VA TAC has been receiving product demos virtually and will be conducting its annual advanced planning brief to industry on July 9th.