Networx contract gets reworked

GSA delays RFP as a result of vendor complaints

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General Services Administration officials have agreed to revise their requirements for the upcoming Networx telecommunications solicitation to make the twin contracts more acceptable to bidders.

Major changes will include significant reductions in the number of billing elements vendors must track and the number of plans and reports they must submit to GSA's Federal Technology Service or other agencies, said John Johnson, assistant commissioner for service development and delivery at FTS.

The revisions are extensive enough that officials won't release the requests for

proposals until May, a one-month delay, Johnson said. Most of the changes are the result of comments GSA officials received on draft RFPs released last October and testimony from vendors during a recent House Government Reform Committee hearing.

"We've worked closely trying to entertain all the draft RFP comments that we received," Johnson said. "We have been working on them for some months, and we have adopted about 40 percent of all the comments that were submitted to us."

Potential bidders have complained, among other things, about the number of data elements they would be required

to track and the government-specific

nature of those elements, which could require vendors to buy or build new information technology systems to comply with the requirements.

Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said he strongly supports the evolving Networx strategy. Last week, after the Government Accountability Office upheld vendor protests against the awarding of the Treasury Department's Treasury Communications Enterprise contract, Davis issued a statement renewing his call for Treasury "to put aside TCE stovepipe intentions and work toward a Networx strategy that is

in the broader government

interest."

FTS officials will award two Networx contracts. Networx Universal will give agencies a contract vehicle through which they can choose one supplier to provide a full range of service offerings with national and international availability. Networx Enterprise will provide a range of services, service providers and opportunities for small and midsize businesses.

Johnson said last week that officials plan to award at least two Universal contracts and possibly five or more Enterprise contracts. However, more awards are possible, he added.

Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting, said the back-and-forth between industry and government that has continued for more than a year will produce a contract plan that is better for both sides.

"This is an example of the system working and working well," he said, adding that both sides were uncompromising on critical points but willing to bend on others.

Although FTS officials are modifying details of the Networx RFPs, they will stick to their principles, Suss said. "I do not believe the government is going to back off of its fundamental requirement to represent the needs of the agencies," he said.

Suss said delaying the RFPs is unlikely to jeopardize the chances of making a smooth transition from FTS 2001, the current contract, to Networx. "Any delays will have some effect, but delaying something at this stage will probably save time on the back end," he said.

Robert Collet, vice president of engineering and chief technology officer at AT&T Government Solutions, said the delay is not significant. "We'll use the extra time to further develop our offer," he said.

Collet and some of his counterparts at other companies praised FTS officials for taking the time to develop the solicitation carefully.

"The most important thing is that we see responsiveness, a reaction and not a 'take-it-or-leave-it'" attitude, said Jim Payne, senior vice president of Qwest Communications International's Government Services Division.

Payne has been concerned that government-specific requirements for data gathering, internal IT support systems and other factors could be burdensome for companies such as his that have not held positions on FTS 2001.

MCI spokeswoman Natasha Haubold also expressed appreciation that FTS officials are listening to their customers and to industry officials. However, she said, the changes revealed so far "have little impact on our strategy and the capabilities that we know our customers expect to obtain under Networx."

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