Procurement

GSA wireless agreement called 'step in right direction'

smartphones

The General Services Administration's new blanket purchase agreement with the four major U.S. wireless carriers will simplify the government's bewildering tangle of mobile voice and data services into more manageable bites for federal agencies, according to experts.

"I'm convinced that the agreement is a step in the right direction," said Warren Suss, president of Suss Consulting. "There is a history of federal wireless services being bought in the least economical way -- individual local offices making their own deals, using government credit cards and agencies sometimes paying full retail prices for services."

According to acting GSA Administrator Dan Tangherlini, the new blanket purchase agreement (BPA) announced by GSA, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile and Verizon on May 22 could save the U.S. government as much as $300 million in the next five years.

According to GSA, the agreement marks the first time agencies have had a single governmentwide option with the ability to access a pool of unused minutes rather than paying overage fees. Federal agencies spend about $1.3 billion on wireless services and mobile devices annually. Until the new agreement was signed, the agency said wireless buying was split among multiple buying channels, which meant that individual agencies and offices were managing more than 4,000 wireless agreements and 800 wireless plans from various carriers. Creating the BPA "was a massive undertaking," said Todd Loccisano, executive director wireless contracting at Verizon. GSA began meeting and negotiating with all four wireless carriers beginning in early 2010 to hammer out the details.

The new plan, he said, allows government agencies to order smaller, but more optimal, wireless voice and data service plans. "It offers consistency of offerings among the carriers." The GSA made each carrier bid on set packages of voice and data minutes. Agencies, he said, get the same minute plans from each carrier for full suites of services, some including advanced services like 4G LTE, are included in the plans with uniform rates.

Agencies can also modify their services according to their needs under the agreement going forward, said Loccisano.

The BPA also works hand-in-hand with GSA's Telecom Expense Management Services (TEMS) program to help manage costs, said Loccisano. Federal agencies have already begun to order through the agreement, he said and some will begin to see services in the fall.

The next official step in the process, however, is a "kick-off" meeting between GSA and carrier officials that will formalize delivery dates and reporting mechanisms, said Loccisano. That meeting will happen "in the next two weeks."

The down side, if there really is one to the agreement, according to Suss, is that GSA may have locked in rates that may or may not be the lowest they could get. However, he said, for the majority of agencies, the agreement will mean lower rates and less confusion.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a staff writer covering acquisition, procurement and homeland security. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.

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