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Opportunity out of Chaos: What’s going on at SPAWAR Systems Center Charleston

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October 25, 2012
Cyber Security
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Many of the high-end technology tools that the Navy uses are procured through a small organization down in Charleston, SC.  Five years ago, you could expect about $1.5B/year to contract through this working capital funded organization, called SSC LANT.  As the dual wars provided an increasing need for the types of mobile technologies that SSC LANT is expert at, their contracts swelled to over $3.5B/year and attracted a great deal of industry attention.

Two years ago, the Executive Director, Mr. Chris Miller, decided to bundle most of SSC LANT’s separate contracts into “Pillar” contracts and consolidate the Navy work and streamline the contracting process for his overworked group of acquisition professionals.  This was a time of great and rapid growth at SSC LANT and also a time when many DoD contractors swarmed into the Low Country and put out signs, hoping to catch some of the action.

But alas… these pillars have not move as quickly as they were supposed to, and have continued to experience delays as SSC LANT wrestles with the massive volume of proposals they received.  We now expect some of the larger ones to be awarded after the New Year.  The intense pressure exerted on SSC LANT further dashed Chris’ hope that he would end up with a smaller number of contracts that were easier to manage. On 17-18 June, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley visited SSC LANT with Senator Lindsey Graham, R, SC to review how this restructuring would impact competition and work loads in the area.   Additional pressure was exerted from components of DoD Industry that feared being “locked out” of work in the Navy.

As a result, any proposal that is both Compliant and Competitive appears to be getting the award.  Now all the work will be in the Task Orders that come from these pillars.  Task orders are not as visible as RFP’s (they will be managed under a new on-line system called Seaport O), so much of the real work will be somewhat cloaked to the Industry.   Making the many decisions related to awarding a Task Order will require a huge and constant effort from their Technical Experts.  If industry is not able to accurately gauge what the upcoming workload is, how can they anticipate the correct commitment they should be making?  Money will be wasted and opportunities will be lost.

One additional concern is that, because of these delays, many of the older, existing contracts are either being extended (taking money from the anticipated pillars) or reaching end of life and a threatened (and dreaded) Work Stop.

All is NOT lost.  There was a great deal of quality IT work done at SSC LANT before, and there will be long into the future.  This is a place where really smart solutions meet really hard problems.  The challenge for Industry is to carefully review the old contracts and their end dates and guestimate, from the work included, what MIGHT be coming up on a pillar.  This art form is being practiced all over the Low Country with variable results.  The work load is real and the chaos will settle down and the engineers will get back to their real work!

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