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NIH kicks off $40 billion follow-on contract for IT services

The National Institutes of Health kicked off on Tuesday one of the largest information technology procurements in the federal government: a 10-year governmentwide Chief Information Officer-Solutions and Partners 3 contract valued at $40 billion.

The CIO-SP3 contract includes a full- and open-competition vehicle valued at $20 billion and a separate small business contract also valued at $20 billion, according NIH's Information Technology Assessment and Acquisition Center, which is managing the contract.

CIO-SP3 will incorporate medical imaging, remote sensing, videoconferencing and Web services previously handled under a separate NITAAC contract called Image World 2, according to a pre-solicitation notice posted on the Federal Business Opportunities website on Tuesday. NITAAC said it plans to release the full and open competition CIO-SP3 request for proposals on or about Sept. 1, with the small business RFP planned for a later and unspecified date.

Ray Bjorklund, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer for FedSources Inc., a consulting firm in McLean, Va., said only the General Services Administration's omnibus $50 billion Alliant IT services contract has a higher ceiling value than CIO-SP3. But he questioned whether NITACC overestimated the value of the contract. Sometimes agency's "eyes are bigger than their stomachs" when it comes to setting ceilings, Bjorklund said.

Mary Armstead, who was appointed NITAAC director in April after a more than 25 year career in procurement with the National Institutes of Health, said she welcomed a dialogue on the value of CIO-SP3, but added the ceilings are high because they take into account a range of IT variables spanning a the next decade.

Peter R. Orzag, outgoing director of the Office of Management and Budget, approved the $40 billion CIO-SP3 ceiling in a letter to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, in July and said the contract can provide "cost-effective, quality results for our taxpayers."

NITAAC said the contracts will help fulfill a range of IT needs across the federal government, with a particular emphasis on agencies such as NIH and the Health and Human Services Department, both of which are involved in health care and clinical and biological research.

In his letter, Orzag said he expected the contracts to offer a range of IT services to federal health agencies, with a "particular emphasis on health related IT services to support agencies with health related missions and responsibilities under the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act," the landmark health care reform bill Congress passed in March.

The law envisioned using IT to support many of its goals, including offering Web portals to allow people to compare online health insurance costs and benefits, state-managed health insurance exchanges, universal patient identifiers, and data matching technology to detect waste fraud and abuse related to health insurance claims.

Armstead said CIO-SP3 will provide the IT services called for in the health care law, including Web portal development and data mining. She emphasized interested bidders must demonstrate expertise in applying these services to the health care domain.

The draft CIO-SP3 RFP released in August 2009 called for contractors to support development of interoperable heath care systems under the Federal Health Architecture, including interoperable systems. Armstead said CIO-SP3 is being designed to support the architecture.

NITAAC already supports a variety of agencies, including the Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs departments, and the Environmental Protection Agency under its current IT services contract. Armstead said she anticipates continuing that support under the new contract.

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