McLean-based RS Information Systems Inc. was awarded a $409 million, five-year information technology contract by the Department of Energy this week, by far the largest deal in the small firm's 10-year history.

The win was a coup for the minority-owned business, which attracted several billion-dollar competitors -- including Science Applications International Corp. and International Business Machines Corp. -- to serve as subcontractors. Under the deal, RS Information Systems will provide a variety of IT services for the agency, such as help-desk support, telephone and Internet service, and Web design.

"This is a defining moment for RSIS," said Rodney P. Hunt, president and chief executive. "DOE has placed its trust in RSIS, and the small-business community as a whole, by awarding this mission-critical program."

RS Information Systems will hire about 200 employees for the contract, Hunt said.

The Energy Department characterized the award as proof of the Bush administration's dedication to small businesses.

"Making contract opportunities available to the small business community is one of my priorities," Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said in a statement.

With the initiation of the contract, RS Information Systems will no longer be a small business. The firm has 1,400 employees and $190 million in revenue, but by the end of the year it is expected to have grown to 2,000 employees and $260 million in revenue, Hunt said.

The changes also thrust the firm into the arena of mid-tier government contractors going after large contracts. The company already competes against such giants as SAIC and Computer Sciences Corp., but the competition will become more intense, company officials said.

That is a challenge the firm has been looking forward to, Hunt said. RS Information Systems has never made an acquisition, but that may change, he said. Some strategic buys in the intelligence and homeland security community could help make the firm become more competitive, he said.

"We're well prepared with proper infrastructure, technical expertise, financial strength, to perform very well on contracts of this size to compete quite effectively in this larger market," Hunt said.