news | 7 August 2023

DIU-GSA Partnership Scales Nontraditional Technologies

By Joshua Tuxhorn and the General Services Administration Federal Acquisition Service Information Technology Category Team

The Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) is a fast-moving Department of Defense (DoD)  organization that contracts with a  variety of companies. DIU awards  prototype contracts to non-traditional  defense contractors – many of them  are new to the federal market – to  solve national security problems  and strengthen the national security  innovation base.  

Speed in contracting is critical  with nontraditional federal vendors.  Accordingly, DIU developed the  commercial solutions opening  (CSO) source selection process in  2016 to reduce barriers to entry and  streamline the competitive acqui sition process. DIU’s CSO leverages the  other transaction (OT) authority to  competitively acquire and prototype  dual-use technology at the speed of relevance. 

DIU quickly prototypes, delivers and scales dual-use capabilities across the DoD and, where applicable, the broader U.S. government.

Once a technology prototype has proved successful, there are multiple pathways to scale the technology and deliver it to end users. These include: traditional Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) contracts, production OT agreements, and, most recently, the DIU-General Services Administration (GSA) partnership.

Seeking the Nontraditional

DIU actively engages with commercial technology providers. These providers are uniquely positioned to sell to the commercial market and often face unique hurdles when attempting to enter the defense marketplace. A DoD report released last year documented the consolidation of the Defense Industrial Base (DIB) and the risk it poses to national security. Attracting and working with new entrants is more critical than ever, as new entrants not only diversify and strengthen the DIB but also bring increased competition and innovative business practices to the defense market.

Diversifying the DIB requires nontraditional defense contractors to see the potential in the defense market. DIU is working to ensure successful prototype projects are available across the federal government by providing access to technology offerings through the GSA Federal Supply Schedule [1. Title 10, U.S.C. Section 2302.]

The Partnership

GSA provides centralized procurement and shared services for the federal government. It manages a nationwide real estate portfolio of nearly 370 million rentable square feet. It oversees approximately $75 billion in annual contracts and delivers technology services that serve millions of people across dozens of federal agencies.

Under the new DIU-GSA partnership, GSA will transition successfully completed DIU prototype solutions to GSA contract vehicles. This will accelerate the adoption of innovative commercial technology solutions across the DoD and the broader U.S. government.

The DIU-GSA partnership streamlines access to leading-edge commercial technology. In addition, it maximizes opportunities and minimizes barriers for small and/or underserved businesses and nontraditional vendors seeking to do business with the government.

GSA’s Information Technology Category (ITC) team designed an onboarding process for DIU’s commercial prototype partners to to pursue four potential pathways:

1. Develop partnering agreements as subcontractors or through joint ventures with companies on GSA’s Multiple Award Schedule (MAS) program. [2. purchasing-programs/gsa-multiple-awardschedule/gsa-schedule-offerings/mascategories/information-technology-category]

2. Obtain reseller agreements with companies on GSA’s MAS program.

3. Consider GSA’s Government-wide Acquisition Contracts (GWAC) program during the program’s open periods. [3.]

4. Pursue and possibly obtain a GSA MAS contract.

As part of its onboarding process, GSA’s ITC is supporting and educating DIU commercial prototype partners on how to advertise and market solutions to federal, state, and local government entities. Additionally, GSA’s MAS ITC developed a pilot program to streamline the process for DIU’s commercial partners in parallel with the “FASt Lane: Making It Easier” initiative.[4.]

Launched in July 2022, the pilot, known as E.A.S.E. (Effectively Awarding & Streamlining eOffers), provides presubmission assistance to DIU commercial partners pursuing a GSA MAS contract. The assistance is intended to increase collaboration, minimize processing workload, and reduce the time to award a MAS contract.

The Results

The DIU-GSA partnership is already seeing positive results. It is expanding opportunities to provide innovative and cutting-edge solutions across the government.

For example, using the E.A.S.E. pilot program, GSA awarded a MAS contract to Saildrone, a successful DIU prototype. Saildrone is a company that designs, manufactures, and operates a fleet of unmanned/uncrewed water surface vehicles (USVs), known as “Saildrones.” Prior to the MAS contract award, Saildrone only supported DoD requirements. Since the MAS award, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Coast Guard have used the contract vehicle for Hurricane Ian efforts. This afforded federal agencies and scientists an opportunity to monitor and study severe storms and hurricanes in a new way.

Saildrone Chief Legal Officer Karen D. Dacres explains the partnership:

“From the start of GSA’s active engagement with Saildrone, the agency’s collaboration and guidance throughout the GSA MAS award issuance process were instrumental in ensuring that not only a GSA MAS award occurred for Saildrone, but perhaps most importantly that the award was made on an accelerated timeline. When Saildrone started the GSA MAS process, we were new to the process but had an urgent need for a validated acquisition pathway due to increasing market demand for Saildrone’s data services. GSA and its subject matter experts shepherded us through the process. Their efforts were quite frankly transformative and instrumental in our company’s entry onto GSA contracts.”

As the DIU-GSA partnership continues to transition prototypes to the MAS, engagement with and notification to both government and DoD customers will be at the forefront of the partnership’s mission. Broad adoption of new and emerging technologies is critical. For this partnership to be truly successful, GSA and DIU will continue to publicize and further facilitate ease-of-access to these technologies.

Prototype “Success Memos,” which enable DoD and other federal entities to enter into production OT agreements without recompeting, are available upon request through DIU.

This article appeared in the August 2023 issue of Contract Management magazine, published by the National Contract Management Association. Used with permission.