The Air Force’s enterprise IT as-a-service program cleared its final hurdle and is ready for takeoff.

The service emerged victorious after the Government Accountability Office denied the protest by Peraton after the Air Force awarded Consolidated Analysis Center Inc. (CACI) a $5.7 billion contract to largely outsource the day-to-day management of its IT infrastructure.

GAO denied all of Peraton’s claims in a decision released yesterday, but finalized April 12.

“We remain committed to delivering high-quality enterprise IT to our airmen and guardians,” Air Force spokesperson Laura McAndrews said in a statement to Federal News Network. “Now that the contract has been awarded, the EITaaS Wave 1 program office is beginning its work with mission partners and the vendor to develop a comprehensive rollout plan.”

Peraton declined to comment, and CACI didn’t respond to an email seeking comment on GAO’s decision.

In its protest, Peraton claimed CACI received an unfair competitive advantage, because it hired three former Air Force executives. Additionally, the company said the Air Force’s evaluation of its bid was flawed, particularly around two non-price factors and around the best-value trade off.

Arguments didn’t hold up

GAO agreed with the Air Force after reviewing the contracting officer’s investigation into whether the three former executives gave CACI an unfair advantage.

Additionally, GAO said Peraton didn’t offer any hard facts to support their claims.

As for the Air Force’s evaluation of Peraton’s bid, GAO also determined there is no basis to sustain the protest.

“When reviewing a protest challenging an agency’s evaluation, our office will not reevaluate quotations, but will examine the record to determine whether the agency’s judgment was reasonable and consistent with the stated evaluation criteria and applicable procurement statutes and regulations,” GAO wrote in its decision.

The Air Force chose CACI in August for wave one of EITaaS, which includes devices and manpower. CACI will be responsible for IT service management, end user devices and various support services, including operating a centralized helpdesk for the Air Force and Space Force.

The decision by GAO ends the second round of protests over EITaaS. After the Air Force’s award in August, three unsuccessful bidders, Peraton, Accenture and Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) submitted protests. The Air Force took corrective action in September and re-awarded the blanket purchase agreement to CACI. Peraton and Accenture decided to submit another protest to GAO in January. Accenture decided to drop its complaint in February, leaving GAO only to decide Peraton’s protest.

Lauren Knausenberger, the Air Force chief information officer, said before the GAO made its decision that she was optimistic that EITaaS would kick off in April.

“I have told the team just in case we continue to extend our execution of wave one, don’t wait. So anything that we can do to prepare the battlefield for the vendor to take it, we’re doing. Things like consolidating around one laptop image. The laptop image that has really had great results in the risk reduction experiment, increasing our automated patching and I’m scaling our IT service management solution that we already know works, that we already have enterprise agreements with the same provider in works, those are all things that we’re pushing now,” said Knausenberger, who is leaving as CIO in June. “We are launching our virtual desktop capability, holding our vendor accountable to make sure that when we order a machine, it comes within the timeframe that we expect that machine to come and that it is imaged in a way that it can be used, that we don’t have to have our communication squadrons reimage the machine, do more inventory and then distribute.”

Wave 2 coming later this year

Knausenberger said EITaaS wave one will help the service deal with a lot of little problems that feel like “1,000 paper cuts” every day.

“EITaaS wave one is our scaling function for the endpoints, the IT store, the central IT service management and so much more. These are things that just get everybody every day. We are holding on EITaaS wave one [to fix them],” she said.

The Air Force kicked off the EITaaS program through a series of prototypes back in 2018 with a goal of proving the concepts and applying the lessons learned to the implementation phase.

EITaaS wave one is not the end of the program. Knausenberger said she expects the Air Force will award more contracts for other pieces of the initiative.

“We’re hoping by September, maybe August, we will be able to award EITaaS wave 2, is base infrastructure modernization. That’ll start with our Pacific Air Force bases, and that’s going to go and start at scale, giving many more of our bases around the world the same performance improvements that we’ve seen in our risk reduction experiment,” she said. “That is funded a good bit. I’d say we have a solid number of bases that we can go do every year. If we are able to prove the performance increases that I suspect we will improve, I think that we will see some follow on funding going for that.”

Knausenberger said the risk reduction bases, though fewer than initially planned, have proven out many of the concepts in wave one of EITaaS.

She said the end points are faster, the automated workflows and network performance are much better through the IT service management tools.