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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

ICE Weighing Small Biz Set-Aside for Big Software Services Contract

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is considering using a small-business set aside vehicle for a big new contract to buy agile software development services, the agency’s CIO said.

Leading Agile for New Development and Operations, or LANDO, will be the agency’s “contract vehicle for acquiring [software] development services,” Michael Brown told attendees at the the Government Technology and Services Coalition’s conference on immigration and customs enforcement Feb. 28.

The exact form of contract that will be used for LANDO “has yet to be determined,” Brown explained in an interview with Homeland Security Today after his remarks. He added that the agency was weighing options including using a Government-Wide Acquisition Contract, or GWAC, or some ICE-specific Blanket Purchase Agreement or BPA.

“We have not yet decided with our procurement office whether [the LANDO acquisition] will be unrestricted, or whether it will be confined to small businesses,” he said. Small business set-asides was something the agency did “very often,” he added. “The bulk of the contracts we [in the CIO’s office] do is with small and medium sized businesses.”

ICE’s “aggressive” targets for small business contracts

Sarah Todd, the deputy head of contracting activity for ICE’s Office of Acquisition Management, said the agency as a whole has very aggressive targets for spending acquisition dollars with small businesses — generally defined by the federal government as companies with fewer than 500 employees and/or less than $7.5 million in annual revenue.

She told the audience that the agency aims to spend 39 percent of its obligated contracting dollars with small businesses. Last year, it spent $731 million with small businesses, Todd said, adding that small businesses, especially innovative start-ups were “some of the most important industry partners we have.”

ICE spent more than $54 million on IT and telecommunications systems development last year and a total of nearly $244 million on professional support services, she said.

Other big ICE IT contracts

Brown said other major contracts the ICE CIO office hopes to get out of the door this calendar year include:

  • TacCom II — A DHS-wide modernization program for the department’s land mobile radio, or LMR, handsets and infrastructure. The award is expected “soon,” said Brown.
  • Re-compete of the agency’s cloud computing services contracts, with an RFP expected early in FY2020.
  • Upgrading several hundred network switches in agency field offices.

The way forward for LANDO

Brown said the aim of LANDO was to streamline and modernize the way ICE buys software development services and to build on the agency’s successful use of agile methodologies.

The agency issued an RFI in February and Brown said he hopes to have the RFP out before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30.

“We have a number of development contracts approaching end of life and this will bring them together,” he said, “What we want is a general purpose development contract vehicle that will last for some time against which we will write task orders for our various development needs as they arise and to replace other contracts as they expire.”

“We’re looking for industry to make suggestions” about how the agency could best buy agile development services, Brown said.

The RFI asks vendors “What contracting strategies do you recommend to ICE for agile software development requirements? … What would be the pros and cons from an industry perspective of establishing a multiple award BPA? … What pricing structures and contract types do you recommend for agile software development contracts?”

Firm fixed price has disappointed

Brown said that in practice, Firm Fixed Price, or FFP contracts had not fulfilled their promise by transferring risk to the vendor. “We’ve done a lot of procurement of development services under [FFP], and that’s not necessarily proven to be to be satisfying for either the customers or the vendors,” he said.

When software development was critical to the mission, he said, “You’re in it to together with the vendor in a way that the [FFP] contract methodology doesn’t reflect … the risk isn’t actually transferred.”

In part the issue was that vendors set a “price to win,” rather than a “price to deliver,” but the government also had to shoulder its share of the responsibility. “We’re perhaps not being clear enough about how this risk gets transferred in some of these FFP deals and [lowest-priced technically acceptable, or] LPTA doesn’t help.” LPTA is a standard that basically compels procurement officers to pick the cheapest bid from a vendor that can actually do the job.

“That’s a maturation that the government side has to do … We ought to think more about other ways of pricing,” he concluded.

Shaun Waterman
Shaun is an award-winning journalist who has worked for the BBC and United Press International. In the past five years, Shaun has launched two of the best-respected and most widely read DC daily cybersecurity newsletters — POLITICO Pro's Morning Cybersecurity and Scoop News Group's CyberScoop. Shaun became UPI's Homeland and National Security Editor shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, covering the Department of Homeland Security from its standup in 2003. His reporting on DHS and counter-terrorism policy earned him two (2005, 2011) "Dateline Washington" awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, and a senior fellowship at the George Washington University Center for Cyber and Homeland Security. In 2009-10 Shaun produced a major report on cybersecurity for critical infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading Washington think tank. From 2010-2013, he wrote about intelligence, foreign affairs and cybersecurity as a staff reporter for The Washington Times. Shaun, who is British, has a master’s degree in social and political sciences from King’s College, Cambridge. He is married and lives in Washington, DC with his wife and three American sons, Miles, Harry and Peter.

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