By Gloria Larkin
Can artificial intelligence (AI) make the workday easier for Homeland Security Department contracting officers? With the Biden administration’s efforts to expand the industrial base by working to get more small and disadvantaged businesses into the game ― thus increasing the workload ― they surely hope so.
Know that conducting market research is a constant time-consuming struggle. However, the Procurement Innovation Lab (PIL) at the Department of Homeland Security has a new AI for a market research tool that went live last September, and it has accelerated the search for new contractors.
As the PIL was founded, some DHS vendors were already involved in AI work; a bull session with those companies led to the development of mockups and wireframes, then further development and testing; which resulted in the use of three new tools.
The AI for market research tools scrapes many public databases. They include SAM.gov, USASpending.gov and the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation in facilitating the search for companies that have worked in a specific sector, such as cybersecurity or software development. This means dozens of firms can be sampled for various targeted capabilities.
Such robust lists allow contracting officers to execute more targeted market research, limiting their searches to specific government-wide acquisition contracts or calling a handful of companies for information. All told, this approach succeeds in expediting the market research process.
DHS launched the pilot program last fall and it was employed by about 200 users. Today, the PIL is measuring progress and impact through a qualitative survey. Upon conclusion of the six-to-nine-month pilot, the return on investment will be measured before the next move to refine the program occurs in August.
MRAS: Another AI tool
The Market Research as A Service (MRAS) provided by the General Services Administration has also jumped into AI tool pool to deliver industry market data to federal, state, and local agencies. Through Federal Acquisition Regulation Part 10-compliant requests for information, sources sought, industry days, and advanced product research, MRAS aggregates services and product data that assists government customers when they look to match their needs with what is offered by vendors.
Here is how it works: within 24 hours of receiving a market research request from any government customer, GSA Customer Service Directors work directly with Agency Points of Contact to review a draft Request For Information, then refine the RFI for eventual posting on GSA eBuy or direct emailing to targeted vendors.
After the RFI closes, a resulting Market Research Report is immediately created to examine how the market can meet technical requirements and mission needs. MRRs also facilitate completing Small Business Office review forms, development of acquisition plans, and assistance in acquisition strategy, often in hours instead of weeks.
Getting eliminated from consideration for a lucrative government contract is, as many contracts know, the pits. But spurned companies might have more hope as they move forward than they think they do.
This is because they can file a protest to the Government Accountability Office. Know that GAO recently upheld ninety-eight protests from companies that were passed over in Phase 1 of the fight for the $50 billion IT services government-wide acquisition contract, which is being run by the National Institutes of Health’s IT Acquisition and Assessment Center.
GAO detailed two major reasons for upholding the protests: First, it found NITAAC’s record did not show it reasonably evaluated the Phase 1 offers; second, it did not determine which proposals would advance to the next stages of competition.
At a later date, GAO will issue a separate decision addressing the remaining thirty-three protests filed by firms that were not represented by counsel. However, its latest decision will likely force NITAAC to do an about-face from its initial awards or at least reopen evaluations for those ninety-eight companies.
NITAAC made an initial 431 awards under CIO-SP4 in March ― only to face 131 new protests. In all, CIO-SP4 has faced 314 total protests since 2021 with most having been dismissed, denied, or withdrawn. Until now.