NASA SEWP Contract FAQs - Securing NASA Contract Awards

Why Bother with NASA Contracts at all?

There is a common line of reasoning against trying to win a NASA SEWP contract that goes a little like this: In recent years, the military budget has been 30-35 times larger than NASA's budget. Attempting to secure NASA contract awards would require learning the updated SEWP V bid management protocols, managing the tricky interface, getting EARP approved, and developing relationships with a whole new set of procurement agents. Aside from a handful of highly specialized space firms, it just isn't worth the effort. There are some huge misconceptions inherent in that perspective.

That common thinking is precisely why pursuing NASA contracts and becoming a SEWP V contractor makes good financial sense. The competition levels for a SEWP contract are often (though not always) significantly lower than they are for military contracts, because it is so daunting to many contractors. Moreover, within the last month, NASA contract rules changed dramatically for resellers, which has excluded some sellers and further reduced the level of competition. For reasons we will get to later, there only appear for be roughly 150 EARP (Established Authorized Reseller Program) resellers at this time. If you are a reseller of IT and communications technology, there is no better time than the present to enter the fray. While most government contractors are adept at building relationships with procurement agents and pitching their products, they struggle with the NASA SEWP V interface. This creates an opportunity for you. Whether dealing with SEWP V is worthwhile for your firm is inversely proportional to how troublesome your team finds the interface and the protocols. Fortunately, the Govgistics system pulls these bids through our FBO tool, including direct access to the original source on FBO. We have also put together this handy guide of frequently asked questions about SEWP V. Hopefully what you are looking for is here, but if not, please give us a call.

There is also a fundamental misunderstanding in dismissing SEWP contracts because NASA's budget is relatively small. While NASA SEWP was originally created as a tool for the space agency to procure IT and communication products, its use has expanded considerably since then. SEWP V is available to use by ANY federal agency, and EVERY department of the government fulfills SEWP contracts to meet their ICT (Information and Communication Technology) needs. The ICT contract of your dreams issued by the FCC or US Navy may very well end up on the "NASA" SEWP site.

What is SEWP V?

As the name implies, SEWP V is the fifth generation solution to government ICT purchasing. SEWP stands for Solutions for Enterprise-Wide Procurement (pronounced ‘soup’), which "is a multi-award Government-Wide Acquisition Contract (GWAC) vehicle focused on ICT products and services." The NASA Program Office manages government-wide IT and communication products and services contracts that attempt to provide NASA and other federal agencies a streamlined procurement process. The program attempts to give government agencies the best value "through a competitive procurement processes, premier customer service and outreach, acquisition insight, and partnership with Government entities and Industry." The program can best be thought of as a catalog in reverse, where the catalog is based on government agency requests, rather than available inventory. It is similar to FBO, but focused on communications and information technology. Federal regulation FAR 16.505(b)(1) requires that all government orders in excess of $3500 be open to bidding, so that federal contractors have "fair opportunity." Therefore, a preponderance of federal ICT contracts above that limit go through the SEWP V system, though smaller contracts can also be found. Here is a list of SEWP contract categories:

Products and Services Covered by NASA SEWP V

How Does the SEWP Contract Process Work, and Why is This So Complicated?

Believe it or not, the NASA SEWP sub-domain has multiple "help" and "FAQ" sections which seem to offer very little help. A quick overview of them is telling. Here, for instance, is the work flow diagram provided on a NASA SEWP FAQ page:

NASA SEWP Flow Chart - No mention of Sellers, EARP, or Contractor Payment

Notice anything missing? There are no directions whatsoever for would-be government contractors. There is not even an indication of how prospective contractors submit quotes or get paid. The intended audience and the target clientele for NASA SEWP is other federal agencies. It is "easy as duck soup" for government agencies, but far from it for sellers. Contractors are simply an after-thought. This mind-set permeates SEWP. Fortunately, this is the exact opposite of the mind-set of your Govgistics rep, who would be happy to help you navigate the NASA SEWP protocols, and the exact opposite of our database and bidding tools.

So How Do We Get Paid After Completing SEWP V NASA Contracts?

Upon fulfillment of the federal government contract, sellers need to submit a complete and accurate Delivery Order referencing the contract. The purchasing agency should supply you with a blank Delivery Order template. It is important that you submit the Delivery Order directly into the system, and not to the purchasing agency. If there are any discrepancies in the Delivery Order, a NASA SEWP representative will contact you directly. There typically is no contact between the government agency and the contractor regarding billing and payment after they send you the blank Deliver Order template.

Are There "Set-Asides" for SEWP and NASA Contracts?

In a word, yes, though they are categorized differently than you might be accustomed to. SEWP contracts are divided into five categories which can be helpful to know: Groups A, B(1), B(2), C and D. Group A is a full and open competition among large original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), and service providers. Groups B, C, and D consists primarily of value added vendors participating in the Established Authorized Reseller Program (EARP), or smaller OEMs. Group B(1) is a small business set-aside competition for HUBZone businesses. Group B(2) is a small business set-aside for Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Businesses (SDVOSB). Group C is a small business set-aside competition for small businesses who may or may not qualify for groups B(1) and B(2). Group D is a full and open competition and consists of both small and large businesses regardless of special designation. If your firm qualifies for any special designation, we strongly encourage you to leverage that position. As always, if you qualify as a HUBZone business, a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, a Veteran Owned Small Business, or and SBA 8(a) small business, make certain that your documentation is complete and updated.

Who Can Become a Seller Under the NASA SEWP Protocol?

There are three types of sellers that can fulfill a SEWP contract – service providers, OEMs and participants in the Established Authorized Reseller Program (EARP). As if July 31, 2017, this EARP designation marks a significant departure for NASA contracts. Prior to the creation of EARP, any firm who met the general requirements for government contracting could resell ICT products. With the implementation of EARP, quotes will not even be allowed into the system from companies who are not EARP certified for many SEWP V contracts. The procurement agent has the final determination of whether EARP authorization is necessary to bid on a particular government contract. OEMs determine whether their products need to be resold by EARP authorized companies, or can be sold by any reseller.

How Does My Firm Become an Established Authorized Reseller Program Participant?

Many of the largest ICT OEMs have enrolled in the EARP, including Microsoft, Cisco, HP, and Dell. It is these manufacturers who have the authority to authorize a reseller or refuse authorization. The primary concerns the government has in establishing this designation of reseller, which EARP is intended to solve, are as follows:

  • Provide the same warranty (or better) than provided by the OEM
  • Provide related specialty technical services as needed, such as technical support, installation, etc. depending on the project
  • Be able to address complication after NASA contract award has been issued and product has been delivered
If your firm meet those requirements, then you will need to petition the OEM to designate you an EARP reseller of their product. Achieving EARP status for one OEM does NOT mean your firm has achieved that status for any other OEM. Each manufacturer creates the list of firms with their "circle of trust" that they are willing to risk their reputation and government contracts on.

Why Is EARP Designation Based on the Acceptance of Large IT Firms?

There are certainly those who object to this way EARP empowers large private firms. Special interest and lobbying concerns aside, the government has some legitimate concerns EARP is trying to address. EARP squarely places responsibility and accountability for ICT products on the lap of OEMs (and their select group of resellers) not on NASA procurement agents. That is the central purpose of EARP. There are many reasons why, for NASA, contract awards pose special risks. Here are a few of the possible concerns about NASA contracts to ICT resellers, which EARP is intended to solve:

  • There are a large number of inferior "knock-offs" and imitation ICT products
  • Most procurement agents do not have the technical knowledge to easily identify these inferior products
  • The government wants to ensure that they have full service and warranty coverage for all ICT products
  • Most procurement agents do not have the technical knowledge to identify defective or incomplete components at the time of shipment, and these defects only become apparent during implementation.
  • Since many of these devices contain sensitive military, intelligence, or medical information, these defects can literally be life-threatening
  • Some ICT components may not be compatible with other ICT components or software as expected by ICT professionals. Until a determination is made that the issue is comparability, and not manufacturer's defect, procurement agents want protection from inter-departmental conflicts
  • It is possible to introduce malware, spyware, or "back doors" into ICT products that are very difficult to detect before damage is done. Procurement agents want accountability and guarantees from OEMs and EARP participants that the products they are buying are free from any such problems
  • Military, intelligence agency, diplomatic, political and corporate secrets are conveyed using this ICT technology. It would be difficult to overstate the potential damage that could be done if this information fell into the wrong hands. This could very realistically endanger US troops, intelligence operatives, professional careers, and billion dollar business initiatives. ICT procurement agents take the old saw, "Loose lips sink ships" very seriously.
  • Private information conveyed using ICT products for agencies such as the IRS, Social Security Administration, Medicare, etc. contain vital health records, financial records and personal information. Not only could this information be used for identity theft, banking fraud, and government fraud, it could also place government agencies in accidental violation of HIPPA laws, banking laws, and personal privacy laws
  • Given the potential problems that could result from insecure, inferior or defective products, no federal procurement agent wants to take a risk on being associated with a purchase that triggered a disastrous series of events. As such, they are sticklers for protocols that protect themselves and provide the best coverage in case anything goes wrong.

It Seems Like the Procurement Agents Involved with These NASA Contracts are Extremely Risk-Averse

In many cases, that is exactly right. It is important to know and understand that mind-set. Here are some excerpts from the NASA website regarding "supply chain risk:"

"(a) Definition. 'Supply chain risk' means the risk that an adversary may sabotage, maliciously introduce unwanted function, or otherwise subvert the design, integrity, manufacturing, production, distribution, installation, operation, or maintenance of a national security system (as that term is defined at 44 U.S.C. 3542(b)) so as to survey, deny, disrupt, or otherwise degrade the function, use, or operation of such system. (b) The Contractor shall implement appropriate safeguards and countermeasures in the provision of supplies and services to the Government to minimize supply chain risk. (c) In order to manage supply chain risk, the Government may use the appropriate authorities (such as those provided by section 806 of Pub. L. 111-383 for Department of Defense orders). In exercising these authorities, the Government may consider information, public and non-public, including all-source intelligence, relating to a Contractor’s supply chain."

The site goes on to advise procurement agents, "For example, you likely will want to ensure a Cisco router is from an authorized reseller; but may be willing to accept that a monitor could come through a distributor, while a power cord could come from anyone. Or you may elect to take a risk and accept the router from a non-authorized source - there are trade-offs and it is up to you to make the risk assessment – SEWP merely provides the data." Once again, NASA SEWP agents are assigning responsibility to other agents and protecting themselves. It should be apparent from this analysis that risk avoidance is a paramount concern for NASA contract agents and the procurement agents from other agencies using the system. Your firm should consider how you can alleviate that concern. How can you demonstrate security and reliability? What guarantees do you offer? What testimonials about exceptional customer service in the face of unforeseen problems can you provide them? Addressing these concerns can easily spell the difference in the case of competitive bidding on SEWP contracts.

Conclusion – Winning NASA Contract Awards

Hopefully we have established that pursuing SEWP contracts using the Govgistics database can really be time well spent, because the opportunities extend far beyond traditional NASA contracts. If it is possible for your firm to compete for NASA contracts in Group B(1), B(2) or C, do so. If it is possible for your firm to become an Established Authorized Reseller Program (EARP) participant, do so. If you can find ways to assure procurement agents that you are a very low risk choice to fulfill a SEWP contract, do so. You will find that these things and competitive bidding, will lead to a lot of NASA contract awards. For more information and insights into winning NASA SEWP V contracts7876, please contact your Govgistics rep today.