Part 1: Contracts Management
This article is part of a 3-part series on privatization of government processes.
Following the historic SpaceX Launch this past Saturday, much has been said about the importance of expanding American spaceflight to the commercial sector. “Today’s launch makes clear the commercial space industry is the future,” said President Trump.
The recent feat has opened doors for a new age of American space travel that is cheaper and more frequent—far beyond the 166 crewed U.S. missions that have spanned the last 40 years. Private citizens may also soon get their chance among the stars as the International Space Station (ISS) opens up to tourism. As other companies such as Blue Origin and the long-competitive United Launch Alliance jump into the second wave of the “Space Race,” NASA will have to make new considerations for how to navigate what is to become a highly competitive market.
NASA’s Commercial Crew Program represents an increasing pivot across the government to lean directly on industry to meet agency objectives. NASA will be looking to commercial vendors of space shuttles and other essential space exploration tech—like the Volatiles Investigating Exploration Rover (VIPER) and lunar human landing systems (HLS)—for the foreseeable future. This means that their budget will inevitably move from internal research and development to contract spending.
In order to protect themselves from productivity and spending loss, as well as potential fraud, waste, and abuse, NASA will need a robust contract management system that will allow them complete visibility into the lifecycle of a commercial contract. A solution like eCase Contracts will allow NASA to safely file and track a contract as it moves through various stages of the lifecycle from award to completion. With eCase Contracts, NASA administrators would have full control over their contract documents, ensuring no documents become lost. For an agency that prioritizes safety for their spacecraft and their crew, NASA must also prioritize security for their process automation systems. eCase Contracts is an auditable, repeatable, and defendable COTS solution that can be deployed SaaS in our FedRAMP-certified data center, AWS, Azure, or on premises.
Another consideration is how NASA will handle the possibility of protests when awarding a contract. When awarding SpaceX with the coveted first commercial contract, for example, NASA specified that vehicle design would be the responsibility of the company. “What we said is,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, “‘Here are the top-line requirements for capability and the top-line requirements for safety . . . prove to us how you’re going to achieve those end states.’” Because vendors will be submitting their own designs to the table, there is a greater chance for variation in contract bids and a more contentious awards process overall. A comprehensive contract management system like eCase Contracts will reduce risk in agency procurement as it is built to ensure that acquisition procedures are followed in compliance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR).
Especially now, as the dynamics of the workplace have shifted due to the international COVID-19 pandemic, federal agencies must turn to technology to manage their processes. Right now, space flight is advancing by leaps and bounds. Despite recent delays, Saturday’s successful launch proved to be historic. As Bridenstine hammered home, “For the first time in 9 years, we have now launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil.” But as space flight moves steadily into the future, the systems that agencies use to manage these new processes must advance also. NASA must make sure that it is protected through a certified contract management system like eCase Contracts.