GSA opens up possibility of FTS2001 extension

By Jason Miller
Executive Editor
Federal News Radio

The General Services Administration is opening up the possibility that the FTS2001 contract could be extended.

Steve Kempf, GSA’s acting commissioner of the Federal Acquisition Service, tells lawmakers Thursday that the agency will decide early in 2011 whether the agencies will transition all their telecommunication services to the Networx contract by the June 2011 deadline.

“Most agencies will complete the transition by June 2011, but there may be some large data networks that may not be transitioned for two years or more,” Kempf says during testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “As we get closer, we will have to start negotiations well before the June 2011 deadline. I anticipate that whatever will be left over we will do a sole source contract or a bridge contract to allow rest to transition. We can’t afford to have lines drop dead.”

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This is the first time GSA publicly announced that extending the FTS2001 contract is a possibility. Last November, GSA gave agencies a drop dead date to move to Networx.

In fact, Don Herring, AT&T’s senior vice president for Government Solutions, says his company has had some informal conversations with GSA about a possible extension.

“We have a full year left and a lot can get done in a year,” he says. “It’s premature to say let’s go on to a bridge contract at this point. Let’s see how much we can get done over the next couple of months with the right focus and the right amount of resources we can get a lot done.”

GSA told lawmakers that about 53 percent of all services have been moved to Networx from FTS2001. Kempf says GSA’s goal it reach 75 percent by October.

But other vendors are not so sure it can be done even with the increased focus and attention from GSA, the Interagency Management Council (IMC), the Office of Management and Budget and Congress.

Susan Zeleniak, Verizon federal’s group vice president, told lawmakers she is pessimistic about how the transition is going.

“What is expected to be done by June 2011 may be impossible because the volume of activity is staggering,” she says. “We all agreed to get it done by June 2011 given current status will be quite difficult.”

Witnesses offered numerous ideas for how to improve the chances of completing the Networx transition in the next 13 months.

Many say agencies must simplify and lower their overall expectations of what they can get from the contract in the short term.

Sanjeev Bhagowalia is the Interior Department’s chief information officer and the chairman of the IMC, which is the Networx governance council for agencies.

He says agencies should get away from trying to take advantage of all 50 services under Networx, and just focus on making a one-for-one transition.

“Agencies need to have a solid inventory of their FTS 2001 services in order to do a like-for-like transition,” Bhagowalia says. “You focus on one thing and get the job done.”

Kempf adds that part of the reason for the IMC calling for this one-for-one approach is how late it is in the process.

“The time has passed for the opportunity for a lot of the options that are available and to carefully review the solicitation and go through with something that is more transformative,” he says. “If they are not already there, it’s a little late to do anything but a one-for-one at this point.”

He adds that agencies could add more services in the long term, but the goal is to get the transition done by next summer.

Some vendors are concerned that if agencies do a like-for-like transition, they will miss out on opportunities to take advantage of newer technology.

Herring says, for example, if agencies want to exchange their data services one-for-one, they could would not use multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) and continue to use the older technology of frame relay.

Diane Gowen, Qwest’s senior vice president and general manager, disagrees with Herring’s assessment. She says Qwest’s customers have been upgrading their networks throughout the FTS2001 contract.

“A lot of the delay in agencies getting statements of work out initially was because they were transitioning late in FTS to newer technologies and they wanted to get it done with and then they could move into Networx,” she says.

Gowen would like to see other changes to speed up Networx transition, including increasing agency and industry dialogue, compare pricing or issue requests just for pricing, and if proposals are necessary, make them oral only.

Additionally, Gowen says she would like GSA extend the current Networx contract by five years in order to help providers recoup costs and agencies not have to go through another transition again so soon.

“I’ve suggested that to GSA and I’ve heard they are considering the extension,” she says.

Chairman Ed Towns (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) also expressed concern about the overall federal leadership of this effort. Both say they were disappointed that OMB couldn’t find time to testify because they play a significant role in making the transition happen successfully.

Towns says it was a scheduling conflict.

“There should have been someone from there that could’ve participated in this hearing and been in a position to answer some of the questions,” he says.

Federal CIO Vivek Kundra did speak Thursday at a conference on cloud computing.

“The General Services Administration is responsible for managing the federal government’s transition to the Networx contract,” says OMB spokeswoman Jean Weinberg when asked why OMB didn’t testify at the hearing.

An OMB official says the administration has done several things to keep the pressure on agencies to move to the telecommunications contract.

The official says this includes working with GSA to improve project tracking, having GSA brief the CIO Council three times and the Chief Acquisition Officer’s Council once in the last year and regularly attending IMC meetings to provide oversight and advice.

Towns says he would like more data on the transition before taking any next steps.

“We want to see what we can do to expedite this and be helpful,” he says. “It might require some intervention on our part. But it may be a situation where by us raising questions will help them to move forward. That is what I hope will occur.”

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