GSA’s impending EIS contract a ‘race to the beginning’ for federal telecommunications

The General Services Administration is weeks away from announcing its Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions telecommunications contract — an award that’s both a milestone for the program and start of a “race to the beginning.”

Speaking at a July 13 FedInsider event in Washington, D.C., GSA’s Bill Zielinski, deputy assistant commissioner for the Federal Acquisition Service’s IT category management, said his agency was “very, very close to award.”

“I’m just itching to be able to talk about it at some point,” Zielinski said. “It’s a very exciting time. The award that I’m talking about here, it really isn’t the end, it is a very important milestone within the program. We really think about this as not a race to the finish, but the race to the beginning, because now what’s behind us in terms of the contract award sets out the transition. Where we’re really focusing our energies now as we get past the award is really making sure that agencies are ready and prepared to go forward with that transition from the Networx  contract, or whatever contracts [they] are using today, over to EIS.”

Zielinski couldn’t talk too many specifics about the $50 billion EIS contract, but teased out some details about what the award means for the future of network services.

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“We really feel like now in this next generation of contract that we’re putting together, we really have partnered with industry, with the agencies, to start to say how do we really recognize that the needs that we have in this digitally converged world go far beyond those backbone network services and that we’re going to provide even more and greater access to technologies, not just today’ s technologies but providing on-ramps to new and emerging technologies,” Zielinski said.

By bringing some of those technologies on board in EIS, agencies won’t just meet their needs for today, but also for tomorrow, Zielinski said.

“They’re able to do so not just in the most cost-effective manner, but in a way that allows them to continue the mission and to do so in a safe and secure manner,” he added.

Backbone network services

GSA has been providing telecommunication services to the government since the 1960s.

“We all know that telecommunication we talk about from the 1960s, ” Zielinski said. “The basic backbone network services, Today we talk about the last mile, back then it was all last miles. Telecom was all of these local connections, and trying to interconnect those and weave those together into something broader and larger.”

The current Networx contract provides about 35 percent of the telecommunication services to the federal government, or $1.8 billion in services to agencies each year.

Transitioning from contracts hasn’t been an easy road. The move from FTS-2001, the predecessor to Networx, took 33 months longer than expected and cost the government an extra $395 million.

Reporter Meredith Somers discusses this story on Federal Drive with Tom Temin

Despite the delay, today the contract provides a significant value, Zielinski said.

“We can do a lot better,” he said. “We at GSA can do a lot on behalf of agencies. That’s exactly what we’re looking to do with this next generation of network service contracts.”

Zielinski said since 2007, GSA has saved government agencies about $3.8 billion, thanks in large part to partnerships in both the public and private sectors, and input from an infrastructure advisory group that’s co-chaired by several federal CIOs.

Zielinski said this time around it’s important agencies have their transition plans in order.

“The idea of being able to have a transition plan in place is very, very important,” Zielinski said. “Part of that is inventories. In order to be able to do that transformation, in order to be able to move forward into EIS and the significant opportunities it presents,  you really have to be prepared by knowing what you already have in place so that you understand what it’s going to take to be able to get you there.”

Zielinski said GSA has been running a number of training programs to help agencies prepare for the change and understand what’s in the new contract, and he encouraged both agency folks and industry to take advantage of those opportunities.

Telecom of today, tomorrow

Zielinski also said to watch for continued partnership between GSA, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Homeland Security Department, through the EIS contract.

The government reorganization memo directs agencies to be more effective and efficient in their procurement, and those best-in-class requirements will be covered in EIS, Zielinski said.

“[This is a] large, complex program that presents incredible opportunities for agencies not just to transition from their telecom of today to their telecom of tomorrow, but to really move forward in transforming to network services that are part of delivering the increased digital age that we’re in today,” Zielinski said. “And to do so in a way that provides that security as we have baked those requirements in there.”