So Anteon, which was bought earlier this year by General Dynamics, is the new Grants.gov systems integrator, replacing Northrop Grumman. Here are the contract details:
- Total contract value over five years is $18,834,822.54.
- First year’s contract value is $4,499,615.54, leaving around $3.5 million for each of the option years.
Beyond this, there’s not much public information available right now. Our company participated on the Unisys team for this opportunity, and I know that the competition included Nortel, Booz Allen Hamilton, and the incumbent, Northrop Grumman.
One of the bigger challenges associated with this project is the e‑forms issue. The RFP stated that e‑forms should be available across Windows, Mac, and Unix. The PureEdge/IBM Workplace Forms product only has a Windows client, with a Mac client coming in November, but no sign of a Unix version. To my knowledge, the only product that is available on all of these operating systems is Adobe’s Acrobat eForms product.
Switching from one e‑forms client to another is a very non-trivial task, laden with significant risk. Grants.gov’s requirements make it more tricky still, as forms must be “stitched together” to make a complete grant application package. As far as I’m aware, the Adobe product doesn’t have this “stitching” capability built-in, and the software that provides it is still in development/testing.
Regardless of the technical hurdles, another problem is that Grants.gov’s PureEdge e‑forms are in the wild; they’re in use across the country by grantors and grantees alike. Switching to a new e‑forms technology will require re-training and re-tooling of all users. In addition, there are grant solicitations being posted on Grants.gov today that will use the PureEdge forms. These solicitations will have closing dates after March 2007 (when the “new” Grants.gov system is supposed to be delivered by Anteon).
So I’m intensely interested in:
- How the cross-platform e‑forms requirement will be met
- How any e‑forms vendor other than IBM can deliver the forms “stitching” solution
- How Anteon will manage to migrate all of Grants.gov’s forms to a new technology by March 2007, bug-free
- How Grants.gov will manage the process of switching users (agencies, grantees) to a new e‑forms technology
- How Grants.gov will manage the receipt of grant applications that use different e‑forms technologies, and ensure service is equally satisfactory and uninterrupted
These problems can be overcome, I’m sure, but they present enormous risks — and risk often takes money to mitigate. And that’s where my most serious concern comes into play.
The Anteon contract is for a shade under $19 million over five years. In the first year, they’ll spend about $4.5 million. Anything other than complete replacement of the existing system will not deliver the kinds of capabilities and functionality that Grants.gov requires over the long-haul. So to put that $4.5 million into perspective, here’s a list of what Anteon must do within that budget:
- Transition everything out of Northrop Grumman’s care into their own
- Build a brand new Grants.gov, from the ground up
- Probably convert all the existing forms (some 100 or so) to a new technology
- Deploy and maintain that system through September 2007
- And ensure all of this happens to very stringent performance levels
As comparison, remember that Northrop charged over $7 million in its first year of work on Grants.gov, about three years ago. That’s about 55% more than Anteon is charging for pretty much the same work today.
I suppose that one could argue that Northrop charged more because they had to buy all the hardware from scratch, etc. But that doesn’t quite cut it in my opinion. Hardware can be reused, certainly, but you can’t continue to use the existing Grants.gov infrastructure and maintain service levels if you’re using that same hardware for development and deployment of the new system. Furthermore, there have already been performance problems with the existing system — so hardware purchases and improvements are inevitably required today, if performance targets are to be met!
I fear I must be missing something in these equations, or Anteon has some incredible “special sauce” that will enable them to meet these budget, functionality, and schedule constraints. My hope is that we’ll see details from Grants.gov about exactly what the plans are for the new system and how it will be deployed.
Regardless of our disappointment in not winning this opportunity, as a user of Grants.gov and as someone who supports many clients of Grants.gov, I sincerely hope that Anteon succeeds! Grants.gov is now a lynchpin in the US Federal government’s grant-making process. If it fails, federal grant-making will be severely impacted, and that won’t go down well with Congress or grantees alike.