GSA’s New Blanket Purchase Agreement Focuses on Scalable Cloud Solutions

The General Services Administration wants to be the prime destination of federal agencies’ cloud solutions. Now it’s launching a new blanket purchase agreement specifically for cloud technology.

Ascend BPA is a multi-purpose, multiple award BPA to allow agencies to acquire and implement secure commercial cloud services offerings, and to deliver solutions that they need. Ascend will be designed to enable agencies to plan and execute cloud acquisitions, and it will have in-built minimum thresholds for security, data ownership, and common terms and conditions.

Sonny Hashmi, commissioner of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, announced the new award Wednesday during a webinar sponsored by FCW. He said Ascend will be designed to optimize for payment by consumption, and it will have new visibility into cloud consumption spend data.

“The idea is to reduce the burden for all agencies and become, instead of [every] agency having to figure out the different nuances of how to do payment for spend, forecasting demand, best practices around security and privacy — all those things going to be baked in,”

Hashmi said.

“So hopefully it’s going to reduce the burden for agencies. And equally importantly, it’s going to lower administration costs for our providers.”

Blanket purchase agreements are established by a government buyer with a GSA Schedule contractor to fill repetitive needs for supplies or services. According to GSA, these

“make it easier for the contractor and buyer to fill recurring needs with the customer’s specific requirements in mind, while using the buyer’s full buying power by taking advantage of quantity discounts, saving administrative time, and reducing paperwork.”

Ascend BPA is still in the market research phase and an exact award date is uncertain, but GSA hopes to get much engagement from industry over the coming months with an upcoming industry day and a draft solicitation. GSA is still looking over the responses it received from an RFI conducted in the fall, Hashmi said.

Hashmi said that since the early days of adoption of cloud in the federal government, there’s been multiple ways to buy cloud — in fact there may be too many options now.

“We’ve gone away from buying kind of single-cloud environments that are going to solve a particular pain point or business problem for the agencies, to now having to acquire multiple cloud service solutions that are working in an ecosystem together, along with the services that are needed to integrate them and make them, deploy them, secure them, monitor and manage them,”

he said.

During the web event, moderator Anne Armstrong of GovExec 360 asked Hashmi if this new BPA would duplicate existing GSA services. He said that cloud solutions run a spectrum from the very straightforward to the wholesale strategies which agencies increasingly require, calling for multiple products working in concert.

“It requires a new thinking new approach. So what I would say is that the Ascend BPA that we’re envisioning would supplement existing [multiple award schedule] offerings and [governmentwide acquisition contract] offerings rather than duplicate them. There’s always going to be a way to buy straightforward, fixed-price cloud solutions just the way agencies have today. But there’s a lot of, kind of, pain points and use cases that are not being addressed, and that’s what we’re envisioning this marketplace approach,”

he said.

GSA’s strategy for Ascend is to roll it out in an agile fashion, focusing on pools and sub pools which are executed separately, with opportunities to onboard new pools and sub pools over time, as requirements and industry capabilities evolve. The driving factor around this is going to be demand signal generation, Hashmi said. GSA wants to understand the commonality across the government of requirements, expectations, minimum capabilities such as security and privacy requirements, and metering, which are common for all agencies.

“We want to make sure that they are baked in at the foundation, so that there’s a common expectation to the industry on how they need to show up as they participate in this vehicle,”

he said.

He clarified that Ascend will not be a mechanism to serve all cloud needs for all agencies because that would most likely fail; trying to solve for every use case makes it impossible to scale, he said. But identifying, say, 80% common problem sets and building solutions for those can bring repeatability that incentivizes industry to expect certain demands.

He described frustration from his experience working in the private sector when agencies all had different needs for cloud services, different security requirements, reporting requirements, price expectations and so on. This made it difficult for a company to develop scalable solutions.

“What we’re trying to do is to bring all those expectations a common baseline so that the industry can react to it in one way,” he said. “It’s a big task, it’s going to require some movements, it’s going to require some rethinking of business models on the industry side, it’s going to require some rethinking on how we articulate our expectations and requirements on the government side.”