FCW Editorial: Summing up the Networx challenges

When the idea of a governmentwide contract for long-distance telecommunications first surfaced in the late 1980s, it was met with both excitement and concern. It was to be a proving ground to see if government could really use its volume buying power to drive down rates, but it also meant changing from government-owned to industry-owned equipment.

The first two contracts — FTS 2000 and FTS 2001 — performed as hoped, and as agencies moved to the more advanced offerings, costs did indeed come down and capability increased.

Networx is the third generation of telecom contracts to be administered by the General Services Administration. Now halfway through its contract period, Networx is experiencing different challenges in getting agencies to transition to the new vendors and the new offerings.

There are a number of reasons for the difficulties. Networx is not mandatory, some of the same services are available through other GWACs, and most important, it’s a complicated set of offerings and services. Agency managers are no longer simply choosing to replace a T-1 line with a T-3 line. Now there are many more decisions to be made, and agencies might not have the technical staff to evaluate some of the more complex options.

It’s a fact of life that Congress asked for leanness in government staff and got it. It is also true that industry pays a lot more for technical skill sets than government does — regardless of what you might have read about comparative pay scales. So with the best of intentions, agencies have been presented with a very complicated menu at a time when they might not have employees who are capable of evaluating, selecting or implementing the choices.

A follow-on contract is already being planned. Some industry executives wonder if it’s really needed. They also wonder if the lessons learned from Networx will frame the new acquisition so it won’t suffer from the same growing pains as the current contract.

About the Author

Anne Armstrong is president and chief content officer of 1105 Government Information Group.

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