Polaris: GSA's New Small Business IT Contract
Important update about the Polaris RFP: GSA has temporarily halted the award of the Polaris RFP following a pre-award challenge. During this pause, GSA will assess the concerns raised over the treatment of Joint Ventures in the RFP. The pre-award challenge warned that the current methodology used in the solicitation to assess the experience of prospective contractors engaged in a Joint Venture could violate Small Business Administration rules.
The proposal due date will be extended, but the due date for questions has NOT been changed. The opening of the Polaris submission portal will also be paused. Questions are still due by April 18, 2022.
It’s finally here—on March 25, 2022, GSA released a final Request for Proposal (RFP) for Polaris, a small business governmentwide IT contract vehicle. Polaris is a multiple-award IDIQ contract that will provide the federal government with IT services and IT service-based solutions with an emphasis on emerging technologies.
Since the draft for Polaris came out in December of 2020, Polaris has become the most highly anticipated governmentwide IT acquisition vehicle, with a proposed ceiling of $15 billion. Polaris will give government agencies access to a range of services including cloud platforms, cybersecurity, and software development technology.
Proposals for the Small Business and Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) pools are still to be determined, but questions are due by April 18, 2022. Let’s take a closer look at Polaris and what it could mean for your business:
Why Was the Polaris Contract Created?
The initial idea for Polaris came about when GSA canceled the Alliant 2 Small Business contract in July 2020. Like Alliant 2, Polaris is one of GSA’s small business Governmentwide Acquisition Contracts (GWACs) that offers government agencies an efficient way to procure highly qualified small business IT service providers.
These contracts make it easier for agencies because they will have several pre-vetted businesses to choose from when they need to find critical IT services and solutions.
With Polaris, GSA wants to improve upon past GWACs and expand the industry base, provide greater access to emerging technologies, simplify proposal submission requirements, and enhance the government customer experience.
What Are the Main Components of the Polaris Contract?
The scope of the Polaris contract is to provide federal agencies with customized IT services and IT services-based solutions both commercial and non-commercial.
The primary NAICS code for this contract is 541512 - Computer System and Design Services, but other NAICS codes will be accepted if the primary nature of the task order is for IT services.
Polaris has no maximum dollar ceiling, but the draft notes a minimum contract guarantee of $2,500.
Polaris Will Have 4 Contract Pools
Polaris will be a total set-aside contract vehicle and will establish 4 separate contract pools based on size and socioeconomic status:
- Small Businesses
- Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSB)
- Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB)
Polaris Will Focus on Emerging Technologies
One unique aspect of Polaris is its focus on modernizing the IT industry and its experimentation with technologies that are currently developing or will be developed in the future. According to the draft, “contractors will be encouraged to propose innovative solutions when responding to task order requests.”
Examples of emerging technology services include, but are not limited to:
- Advanced and Quantum Computing
- Artificial Intelligence (AI)
- Automation Technology
- Distributed Ledger Technology
- Edge Computing
- Immersive Technology
Polaris Will Have 7 Performance Areas:
Polaris will focus on 7 main performance areas:
- Cloud Services – Ex: Application Integration Services, Cloud Back-up Solutions, Cloud Migration Services, and Cloud Risk Management
- Cybersecurity – Ex: IT Disaster Recovery Services, Mobile Threat Protection, Network Security Monitoring, and Zero Trust Architecture Services
- Data Management – Ex: Data Migration, Data Governance, Data Science, and Data Security Management
- Information and Communication Technologies – Ex: Wireless Services, 5G services and applications, and Collaboration Technology Services
- IT Operations and Maintenance – Ex: Data Center Management, IT Training, and IT Helpdesk/Support
- Software Development – Ex: Software Design, Software Maintenance, and Software Programming
- System Design – Ex: Configuration Management Services, IT Specifications Development, and Smart Building Systems Integration
The Polaris contract will also offer ancillary support that is necessary to perform a services-based solution like data entry, clerical support, and software licenses. IT Managed Services can also be provided through Polaris, where the contractor as the Managed Service Provider (MSP) can offer network, application, and infrastructure and security services.
Polaris Encourages Contractors to follow CMMC Requirements
The Cybersecurity Model Maturity Certification (CMMC) 2.0, a set of cybersecurity standards set by the Department of Defense (DoD), is mentioned in the Polaris RFP. While CMMC is currently a DoD initiative, it might also start to infiltrate into civilian acquisitions. Polaris contractors are encouraged to monitor, prepare, and participate in acquiring a CMMC certification once CMMC 2.0 becomes official. Contractors are also encouraged to be aware of any CMMC 2.0 developments and implement the appropriate NIST SP-800 requirements which are expected to be a foundation of CMMC 2.0.
While there is no set level of requirements at the moment, GSA mentions they reserve the right to require CMMC 2.0 certification up to level 2 to be considered for Polaris.
Evaluation Factors for the Polaris Contract
If you are a GSA contractor who is registered as a small business, especially as a HUBZone and Women-Owned Small Business, you are eligible to pursue this opportunity.
Whenever you respond to a government solicitation you must pay close attention to what GSA is asking for. You need to not only make sure you are competitive enough to enter, but you should also ensure you are very thorough in your response and follow directions exactly. It's not all about having the cheapest or flashiest solutions. It's about your experience as a company and what value you can offer the government.
The awardees for the Polaris contract will not be selected based off the lowest price or trade-off but will be chosen for the best value. This will be determined by several factors including:
- Self-scoring worksheet
- Technical Evaluation
- Relevant Experience
- Past Performance
- Systems, Certifications, and Clearances
- Cybersecurity and Supply Chain Risk Management
The Polaris RFP includes a detailed description of each factor and a mock-up of the point-value scoring sheet if you need more information.
Polaris is a huge opportunity for GSA small business contractors. If your company offers IT services, services-based solutions, or is on the cutting edge of emerging technology, you should consider pursuing this contract. Once awarded, Polaris contractors will be part of an elite group that the government will go to for their IT services needs.
The first 2 pools, Small Business and Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB), are expected to open up for submission soon once the pause is lifted.
If you and your company are not prepared to go after this contracting opportunity right now, there may be a chance for you to compete later on. The draft mentions there is a possibility of on ramping more companies as needed after the initial solicitation.
If you want to learn more about support options for preparing a Polaris offer, or would like to learn more about small business set-aside opportunities, feel free to reach out to one of our consultants.
About Stephanie Hagan
Stephanie Hagan is the Content Writer and Digital Editor for Winvale where she helps the marketing department continue to develop and distribute GSA and government contracting content. Stephanie grew up in Sarasota, Florida, and earned her Bachelor's of Arts in Journalism and Rhetoric/Communications from the University of Richmond.