The CSO: DOD’s New Way to Acquire Commercial Technology

Stephanie MeloniBy Stephanie Meloni, Market Intelligence Manager

As the use of Other Transactional Authority grows across the Department of Defense as a way to cut back on the time and cost of traditional acquisition programs, a new breed of OTA is emerging. The Commercial Solutions Opening, or CSO, has the potential to have significant value to commercial technology vendors and will give government procurement officers more flexibility in making commercial technology awards.

What are CSOs?

CSOs are a type of OTA designation aimed at buying new and innovative commercial technology. Whereas OTAs are designed for researching, developing and prototyping technology projects, CSOs are aimed specifically at commercial technology that already exists, but will be new to the Department.

Initially, the CSO was piloted only to be used by the limited number of buying activities with OTAs already in place, but a memo released last summer expanded their use across the entire DOD.

CSOs were initially piloted by the Defense Innovation Unit (in partnership with the Army Contracting Command) beginning in 2016, and now GSA is piloting CSO use through their Assisted Acquisition Service. This pilot runs through 2022.

How will CSOs work?

CSOs differ from traditional OTAs since they’re advertised publicly. Most OTAs require membership in a consortium, but CSOs will be posted to as well as on FEDSIM’s website. The competition process will also be different from traditional procurements, since there is no common performance work statement to build acquisition rules around.

Only vendors with a solution deemed to be viable by a group of agency experts will be invited back for further discussions and a potential for award. Lack of transparency into the procurement process and a “don’t call us, we’ll call you” approach is one price both industry and government will have to pay in order to operate outside the FAR and innovate more quickly.

CSOs have a ceiling value of $10 million, though they can be higher with the approval of senior DOD procurement officials.

Who is using CSOs?

Currently, the Air Force is looking at a CSO for a DevOps Platform as a Service to improve space situational awareness and space command and control. This is a continuation of their DevOps evolution, but this project will focus on space operations. This effort would set up a cloud environment that can support AI and IoT to support the space environmentin terms of security and operations. The Department of Homeland Security also announced a pilot with GSA for utilizing CSOs last summer, though currently there are no postings for DHS opportunities. CSOs are likely to be used by innovation offices like AFWERX (as in the above DevOps PaaS posting), while partnered with the end-user organizations.

Where are CSOs heading?

With the rise of rapid capability offices across DOD and expansion of OTAs, technology companies can expect more awards to be made via CSOs for commercial technology. CSOs will offer significant opportunity for commercial technology that is new to DOD offices—the definition of “new” and “innovative” technology is left a bit up in the air since it will vary by offices and projects, though that only opens the playing field for industry. CSOs will give government procurement officers more flexibility in making commercial technology awards.

GSA continues to play a significant role in advancing and expediting commercial technology procurement across DOD and the federal government at large. Contracts like Defense Enterprise Office Solutions (DEOS) and the 2nd Generation IT (2GIT) BPA demonstrate government’s intent of using commercial technology as much as possible, where it makes sense to do so.

The expedited acquisition that OTAs and CSOs offer is setting the stage for continued modernization. Technology companies will want to take note of CSOs as one more way the government can use commercial technology to innovate quickly.


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One Response to The CSO: DOD’s New Way to Acquire Commercial Technology

  1. Pingback: The CSO: DOD’s New Way to Acquire Commercial Technology - Government Aggregator

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