Networx to emphasize fair opportunity

Agencies must decide how to divide requirements for competition

The General Services Administration is urging agencies to move ahead with their planning to make the transition from the FTS 2001 telecommunications contract to Networx, the forthcoming vehicle that GSA plans to award to vendors next year.

At a Transition Summit that the agency held last week for agencies and industry, officials spent a lot of time discussing fair opportunity, a provision of Networx that will require agencies to work harder to acquire services through the contract.

Essentially, fair opportunity means that all companies that hold a Networx contract must have a chance to compete for agency work.

Agencies won’t need to hold a competition for every task order, but they must break down their requirements into groups and go through a fair opportunity process — with ample documentation — for each group, said Jack Braun, GSA’s contracting officer for Networx Universal, one of the two Networx contracts that GSA will award to multiple vendors.

However, agencies have a significant amount of leeway in how they divide their requirements, and that’s one of many decisions they need to start considering, Braun said.

For example, an agency could divide the groups by service type — voice, video and data services could each be a separate group. Another option is to divide the groups by subagencies or offices located in different geographical areas.

“There’s going to be more scrutiny of the fair opportunity clause than ever before,” Braun said. FTS 2001 has a clause called fair consideration, but officials will more tightly monitor Networx’s fair opportunity.

And because the fair opportunity provisions are part of the contract, agencies that were not subject to the Federal Acquisition Regulation will still need to develop a process to meet the demand before they can use Networx, he said.

“It’s clear there is going to be a lot of political attention to this process,” said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting.

It’s one more element for agencies and companies to consider, at a time when they have fewer resources than they did during the last major telecom contract transition in 2000, he said.

There are some instances in which agencies can forgo the use of fair consideration, Braun said, such as in an emergency situation or when only one vendor is capable of doing the needed work. In those cases, however, agencies will have to fully document and justify the decision to skip fair opportunity.

Speaking more generally, Fred Schobert, GSA’s Networx program manager, said the contract includes many provisions for GSA to manage.

“This is designed to allow you to worry about your mission and we’ll worry about the contract,” he told the audience.

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